Happiest mums – gift makes psychological sense

I was very touched, and more than a little jealous, to read about the Finnish Maternity Package that mums have been receiving since the 1930s. What an amazing gift for a government to give to all expectant mothers. It comes in a cardboard box complete with a mattress that coverts into a first crib, and includes all bedding, clothes from bodysuits to snowsuits, cloth nappies and thoughtfully condoms! And there appear to be no advertising leaflets… unlike our current Bounty packs which seems to include little else.

I am struck by how cared for Finnish expectant mothers no doubt feel when they open up their box, whatever their financial situation. It doesn’t surprise me that a recent report says Finnish mum are the happiest in the world (though there will be other factors). And we know babies mirror their mother’s emotional state, so this means happier babies too. To feel supported as a mother not only reduces the rate of miscarriage during pregnancy and post natal depression after a baby is born, it helps with the process of bonding. We know from research how key this bonding and attachment is for healthy psychological development. So for governments to value mothers and support them in their role to provide this in the first few years makes sense. Better adjusted children translates into well adjusted adults who are able to take care of themselves and in turn the next generation. Common sense and considering some research suggests this will save governments money, by reducing a range of social issues and health costs.

I feel sad reflecting on our current position here in the UK, where I feel little thought seems to be given to the psychological impact of some governmental decisions being made. Whilst I understand the enormity of the current financial situation that the government faces and am realistic about the need for change including benefit cuts, I feel families with children under 2 years, or ideally 3 years, should be ring fenced and given the most support as its such a key time psychologically, and will have most impact for future generations and our society as a whole. Fundamentally, I believe that mothers (or in some cases fathers) who want to be looking after their children rather than going back to work fulltime in these first few years should be supported in doing this. Incentives for both parents to go back to work in these early years seem to ignore all the evidence of the benefits of one of them being with their own children.

There have been some positive changes in the last decade, such as an increase in maternity leave and changes to paternity leave. Attitudes and accessibility continues to shift towards part-time roles and job shares, although its still hard for women in many roles to create or find these. Increasing numbers of mums are also going self-employed to find a different balance and supporting each other in the process as mumpreneurs. But I would have liked to see the government consider the age of children, not just income, in recent child benefit changes. With multiples myself, I know the cost of 2 or more at once and would also like to see some exceptions for multiple families, as again the first few years are when extra help can make all the difference.

OK, stepping off my soapbox..

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