Why Young Mothers Should Travel More

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Family Travel Erika and Butterflydiary at Lake Tahoe

Published on September 2nd, 2013 | by Charu Suri

15 Why Young Mothers Should Travel More

About a year ago, I had a beautiful baby shower thrown by friends and family. Among the many cups of tea, chocolate-covered strawberries and well wishes, I had plenty of (typically unsolicited) advice.

Take it easy, take it slow.

Don’t even think of traveling the first year, the baby needs time to adjust.

I don’t know about you, but I seldom react well to advice, but I took everyone’s good wishes and intentions with the proverbial chunk of salt. When I read the article by Princeton University Politics and International Affairs professor Anne Marie-Slaughter in The Atlantic about why “Women Still Can’t Have It All”—a powerful essay on working women and the desperate need to have a work/life balance –I couldn’t help think about the fabric of society we live in, and its enormous pressure placed on women to truly have it all.

From professional accomplishments to being smart, stylish and shopping for designer totes and running in heels, women have the onus of being “Wonder Women,” in the 21st century, and taking kids to swimming lessons, kids camps, cooking meals and putting the last touches to a creative brief or spreadsheet at 1:00 am is not far from routine (I speak for myself).

Lake Tahoe with Baby

Enjoying the cool water at King’s Beach, Lake Tahoe

Kids at Lake Tahoe

Erika with her little cousins at a recent union at Lake Tahoe

When I took Erika for a playdate last week, a good childhood friend of mine who is mother to two very young boys admitted to staying up until midnight or 1:00am on a regular basis to get things done “when the kids are asleep.” She also has two au pairs helping her! I wondered how any of her accomplishments were possible if she (like many women around the world) did not have any help at all.

Another friend of mine who has two boys has struggled with the idea of working at home and supervising the boys at the same time, with the end result of tearing her hair out. There’s no doubt: it’s easier said than done.

In America, the three-month maternity leave is shorter than a nanosecond and working mothers struggle with the idea of leaving their little ones behind in daycare or any type of care and returning to their professional lives. The three month maternity leave is not a mandate however. I was shocked to find that many companies don’t offer paid maternity leave because it is optional, whereas countries like France gives 100% paid maternity leave for 112 days and Russia with 140 days with 100% pay.

Maternity Leave Rates around the World

Isn’t it lovely to see how the U.S. stacks up against the rest of the world when it comes to paid maternity leave?

Erika and Butterflydiary at Lake Tahoe

The Young Naturalist: Enjoying Commons Beach in Tahoe

With this type of “work or die” scenario, how then can young mothers afford to travel at all, unless it is for work? And yet, there are excellent reasons to go out on the road, including these, all taken out of my experiences traveling with Erika:

– Erika’s vocabulary grows by leaps and bounds each day: at age fifteen months, she knows and understands concepts like “home,” “car” and “tree” and “leaf” and “airplane” and will point out these objects while we’re on the road, completely unsolicited. It’s a joy to see a fifteen month old point to Canadian Geese on the Hudson and immediately say “duck” and recognize that ducks are indeed, universal, and not limited to say a picture book or a neighborhood pond;

– Studies have shown that babies imitate the facial expressions of their caregivers (so making silly faces is very important and fun!) but exposing young children to other people’s faces is important too—so they learn early on not to become afraid of people with different looks and ethnical backgrounds. I remember when Erika had visitors from Haiti: she burst into tears when she saw my former pastor whose features and skin color were markedly different from Matt’s and mine. Eventually we calmed her down and she warmed up to them and realized that they were super friendly, just like us;

Erika and Butterflydiary at Lake Tahoe

Getting her feet (and eventually everything!) wet

– Never underestimate the learning potential of a child: according to LiveScience.com, a baby’s brain is 60% formed by his or her first birthday, and fully grown at the time a tot starts kindergarten, so the potential for learning and forming new connections on a daily basis is limitless;

– Young mothers in particular, tend to sequester themselves at home and take extraordinary precautions with children. Few mothers go away on trips by choice—most mothers I know travel for work, or prefer to take their children with them. It’s a great idea to motivate yourself to travel more, especially if you’re a new mom and fond of traveling, because a happy mother makes for a better mom.  While it is by no means easy, I’ve found that traveling with Erika since she was born made it easier for her to fall asleep. She also got used to the routine of travel and became less scared of “white noise” elements from police cars to tractor trailers.

– While you don’t have to embark on a round the world trip and follow the Silk Route, a short and sweet trip even to places like the zoo will help expose the child to some magical memories.

I’ve always found it odd that professional tours do not admit children under the age of five on trips. I’ve heard the excuse from parents everywhere, “Oh he or she won’t remember the trip—it’s pointless to travel to places and spend enormous amounts of money” and while that may be true for a trip to see Bethlehem or the Suez Canal, it’s not fair to underestimate your child even before you’ve given him or her a chance.

Many people are genuinely astonished at Erika’s vocabulary and mind, but we work very hard at it, and keep her delightfully occupied. Being on the road keeps me very happy and that joy is what I want to pass on to her.

And yes, it’s truly time to lobby for fairer maternity leave laws. When Google extended its maternity leave from three to five months and made it fully paid, women became more loyal to the firm. Isn’t educational, emotional and financial support the very least we can do to the future leaders of the world?

As Anne Marie-Slaughter puts it, since mothers cannot evidently have it “all,” it’s important to strive for and capture the largest, yummiest slice of the life pie as possible.

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