Forget “family values.” Get parents the 3 gifts they actually need for Christmas

Parents don’t ask for much when it comes to holiday gifts.

A “World’s Best Mom” mug or “#1 Dad” t-shirt? Sure.

A child’s handprint ornament or a macaroni picture frame made by the kids? Even better.

Lawmakers’ platitudes about “protecting family values” or “fighting for parents’ rights” Not so much.

Most parents just want to provide for their families and raise happy, healthy kids. And there are policies, laws and programs that can help them do that.

Yet every year, parents are left disappointed by state and federal lawmakers who don’t make parents a priority when it comes time to vote on legislation.

So politicians and policy-makers – and Santa – if you’re listening, here are three gifts that working parents really want for the holidays.

1. Paid Family Leave

When parents have a new baby, they aren’t guaranteed paid time off from work to recover from birth and adjust to life as parents of a newborn. The United States is one of only six countries in the world that doesn’t require paid leave for new parents. Federal law requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. But that’s it.

“Paid leave is a proven tool for supporting women’s labor force attachment and earning potential,” said Sherry Leiwant, co-president and co-founder of legal advocacy organization A Better Balance, in testimony submitted to Congress. “There has never been a more pressing time for a policy that, uniquely, is both a powerful public health tool and a game-changing economic intervention.”

Thirteen states have enacted paid family leave laws. But for most U.S. parents, it’s up to their employers whether they can take paid time off after a new baby arrives. So far, Congress has been unwilling to pass legislation that would require employers to provide it.

2. An expanded Child Tax Credit

Last year, a new program cut the U.S. child poverty rate in half…and then lawmakers didn’t renew it.

It was a pandemic-era federal program called the expanded child tax credit, which gave monthly cash payouts to about 6 in 10 U.S. households with children last year. Though some conservative lawmakers initially derided it, the tax credit lifted nearly 3 million children out of poverty within a few months.

“(The expanded child tax credit) has the opportunity to be a game-changer,” Dr. Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of the Mississippi-based Springboard to Opportunities nonprofit organization, told Reckon News last year. The tax credit gives families “the financial resources they need in order to address whatever needs their families have.”

Parents reported spending their monthly child tax credit payments on food, utilities, rent, child care and school expenses, according to the Census Bureau.

But the program wasn’t renewed. Unless policymakers take action to make the expanded child tax credit permanent, that progress in erasing child poverty will be lost.

3. Quality child care that’s also affordable

Child care is expensive. More than half of parents with young children say they spend at least 20% of their household income on child care, according to a recent survey. And when parents don’t have good and reliable child care, they miss work. More than 100,000 people reported missing work this fall, due to child care problems.

“I believe we (child care providers) are the backbone of the economy,” Toyin Okunoren, who owns Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park, Ga., told Reckon News. “If people have to work, they need child care.”

Child care is an essential service for many families, but it’s been underfunded and under-resourced for decades. Some states have been experimenting with ways to fix child care access and affordability problems. Yet many families are still struggling, especially since the pandemic created a shortage of child care workers and centers.

They’re not even hard to find

These three gifts are politically popular – one recent poll found paid family leave is more popular than pumpkin spice lattes – and best of all: they’re achievable.

The United States has already tried the expanded child tax credit, states are experimenting with ways to fix their child care systems, and nearly every other country has mandated some form of paid family leave.

Keep your mugs and your false promises. The best gift to give U.S. families this year is real, system-wide change.

Anna Claire Vollers

Anna Claire Vollers |

I report mainly on reproductive and maternal health, working parents and family policy at Reckon News.

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