We will do anything for our families. But often, we find it hard to advocate for ourselves. We try to balance work and child care, we struggle to find the extra minutes to pick up our children, we push ourselves mentally and physically to the breaking point.
The same holds true for caregivers of elderly and disabled family members ― caregiving roles which often fall to women by default. At the same time, professional caregivers who have made it their life’s work often don’t get the pay, treatment and support that they deserve, making these careers hard to sustain.
All of this was challenging before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, for many families, it’s quite the heavy life, as parents face added challenges, not the least of which has been the massive added responsibility of managing remote learning.
Know your value, take care of yourself
When you’re caring for someone else ― whether a child or adult ― sticking up for yourself can feel selfish. But I’ve cared for others and have a sister who is a caregiver. So, let me say it: Know your value. Remember, it is impossible to help anyone if you do not take care of yourself. Put your mask on first. Take care of your mind, body and spirit, so you are ready to balance work and family. All of us should be able to do both, if we choose to.
Last month, Vice President Joe Biden released a plan to ensure that no American parent or caregiver has to sacrifice their own finances and careers in order to provide the best possible care and opportunities.
President Donald Trump, of course, has no plan. Not a bad plan ― literally no plan. In some ways this isn’t surprising. Caregiving has long been an afterthought. But times are changing. In 2018, about two-thirds of America’s mothers were their family’s primary or co-breadwinner. This was true for over 84% of Black mothers. Women of color, particularly Latina women, are less likely to have family leave benefits through their state or employer.
The truth is that while it is rarely discussed, this is one of the largest issues facing America. So let’s get back to talking about what we deserve.
The Biden plan will invest in America’s parents and caregivers, expand access to affordable daycare, create a guaranteed 12 weeks of paid family leave, ensure universal preschool, and attract the best and brightest to the field. These investments will also provide for major expansions to end-of-life care, because no American should face the end of their life alone, and too many families have to drain their savings and give up on their careers in order to care for their parents in old age. These plans will also create hundreds of thousands of good jobs.
A future without needless sacrifice
It sounds transformational ― and it is. But not because it asks for the moon. It’s transformational because we’re so far behind what the rest of the developed world already provides for its citizens.
The United States currently guarantees zero paid family leave to American citizens. Joe Biden’s plan offers 12 weeks. This would be life changing for millions of Americans, and it’s not radical, it’s common sense. To put it in perspective, dozens of other countries already offer more. Five countries offer over 60 weeks, and Estonia in Northern Europe offers a whopping 86. So let’s stop the handwringing and get this done.
Universal preschool is similar. France has had it since the 1800s. Japan offers it, as do multiple U.S. states and cities. It’s been a massive success in places as different as Oklahoma, my home state of Florida, and New York City. We should expand that success nationwide.
It's time to create an environment that truly supports parents, children, people who need care, and caregivers who do this essential work. I know how hard it can be from watching my sister work tirelessly as a caregiver. Countless Americans have gladly put our own lives on hold to raise a child or come to the aid of a loved one. That is a good and a beautiful thing. But with the right support, caregiving could be selfless without being self-sacrificing. You shouldn't have to give up your dreams to have children or take care of your family. You should be able to do both.
Rep. Val Demings is a Democrat from Florida's 10th Congressional District. Follow her on Twitter: @RepValDemings
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden plan makes sure parents and caregivers can keep jobs and income