Getting out of the house and being able to do things can be so important after having a baby, even though some days it feels like it might be almost mission impossible.
Being stuck at home all day with a baby sucks, and if you’ve had a rough birth, if you’re really tired and sore, things can be even tougher. Because the longer you’re alone, the louder the crying and fussing may seem and the more you start to doubt yourself as a parent. Most parents handle maternity and parent leave alone, and the more you are alone, the more isolated you feel, the bigger and harder things will seem. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a real concern, with 1 out of every 6 women and 1 out of every 10 men suffering from it in Canada. Any little thing we can do to make this period easier helps.1
Researchers at the University of Birmingham examined data from 13 studies and determined that exercise is often a great low impact way to prevent or reduce these feelings of depression. I love this quote from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK:
“We often talk about the mind and body as though they are completely separate – but they aren’t. The mind can’t function unless your body is working properly – but it also works the other way. The state of your mind affects your body.”2
The reason I love cycling so much is because it can be adapted to any lifestyle, and you don’t need to be really good at it either, you can move faster than walking and go further distances with little trouble.
I think cycling is a great way to get out of the house with a baby and young kids because it can be used just like walking – as you need it
Families that do things together, including exercise are happier. It is too easy to feel trapped by your obligations and the never ending list of things that absolutely need to be done. With a bike, taking the trip down to the local store can be an easy solution and much faster than loading up the car. By breaking up the chores into smaller ones especially outside of the winter season can make life so much better.5 Not only are you living by example, but everyone gets a nice little boost from doing it as well.
And we have such a fantastic network of biking trails through our city parks, alongside river paths and more. The Canada Trails website has a fantastic map and a resource list for each province. Pack a picnic basket, and just go. There’s nothing more lovely.
This is the third article in our cycling series. The first article called Cycling and babywearing – yes or no? In it, we discuss whether to babywearg on a bike and also includes extensive information on laws in Canada. The second article, called But what about Europe – babywearing and cycling abroad, acknowledges that other cultures do wear while cycling and also includes extensive quotes from my European babywearing colleagues.
2. Researchers from the University of Birmingham examined data from 13 trials including 1,734 women. Their study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, concludes that exercise – either in group sessions, individually or when added to other interventions – is effective in reducing postpartum depressive symptoms. More information can be found in this article published in the Telegraph August 29, 2017. The authors wrote: “UK clinical guidance recommends psychological therapy and antidepressants for postnatal depression. However, women can be reluctant to take antidepressants postnatally and the availability of psychological therapies is often limited.
“Given the high prevalence of postpartum depression and the potential for exercise to be a low-cost, freely available intervention, aerobic exercise should be considered as a management option for postpartum women with depressive symptoms and as a potential preventative measure more generally in postpartum women.”
5. This article from the Royal College of psychiatrists in Britain talks about the benefits of exercise for those who suffer from depression.
Article on family exercise with CNN.
Babywearing comes down to two basic things – first is keeping a child secure in the carrier, with airway safety being the very first consideration, second is preventing falls.
But it’s not always the baby we’re trying to keep from falling. Which means that baby carrying is also about controlling the adult to keep the baby safe. Which means the adult has to mind their speed, stability, all while managing obstacles while carrying.
When cycling, the most important thing to mind is protecting the baby in case of a fall. Helmets contribute greatly to injury prevention while cycling. Below is information from a website maintained by Chris Gilham, an Australian journalist. Currently, most provinces and territories require helmets be worn.1
I also spoke to Kendra Runions, a feeding support consultant in Eastern Ontario2. She worked for 2 years selling specialty safety equipment for power sports applications and some of the families she helped had riders were as young as two years old.
When I asked Kendra about helmet wearing, this is what she said:
“I could easily write a novel on just helmet wearing. Is it a correctly fitted helmet? Is it optimal materials to withstand the most
likely crash scenario?
All of these factors should be in play when choosing a helmet from tricycles to tobaggans and dirt bikes.”
Do you feel adults can gauge whether a helmet is properly fitted and safe for their child?
“No. Honestly a lot of adults don’t know even how to fit a helmet for themselves. An incorrectly balanced and fitted helmet can cause a more severe injury than would have been originally sustained even in a relatively minor accident. I’m talking tip over and fall accident. All of these factors should be in play when choosing a helmet for everything from tricycles to toboggans to dirt bikes.”
What happens to the body dynamic forces when a baby is worn on the body?
“First off your center of gravity is shifted. I’ve consistently warned adults of having other adult passengers because there is some input required for manoeuvering and if your passenger does the wrong thing it can definitely throw you off enough to cause an accident. Now just think of how unpredictable kids are, along with having their leverage points reduced when wrapped or carried and just basically being too short for their legs to reach anything.
Velocity, distance, gravity, pretty much every force could potentially be encountered based on what type of accident could occur. The possibilities are literally endless.”
What about if the baby is worn on the back?
A back worn child is actually what I picture by default. Everything I have mentioned is at play. This is where I want to note that in the event of most accidents, especially low speed, think under 5 km/hr, your back passenger will end up off the vehicle before you. There are many scenarios in which the driver will remain with the vehicle but the passenger will not. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. In order to absorb impact and mitigate potential damage to the human body its better on us to take space to stop v.s. one fast and sudden stop. Everyone has heard “tuck and roll”. A back worn child cannot break free from the adult to do this. Any adult with a child strapped to them is no longer the correct shape for their own body to make the adjustments it
needs to maximize their own injury protection. The adult will most likely be fighting base protective instincts in order to try and shield the child.
Can you always protect your baby in case of an accident? NO.
Think about the difference if you fall while walking, versus if you fall while biking. Now add a baby in the mix on a parent’s back or even in the front. It changes the centre of gravity, which with experience you can accommodate for, but it also adds a weight. If a back pack can go flying off your body when you get into an accident while cycling, or you crush it with your body, think about replacing that very same backpack with the weight of a child.
Additional to the information from my interview with Kendra, here is an excerpt from iBike, an American organization centred around cycling information and safety about cycling while babywearing:
“The conservative approach is that taking an infant on a bike in a backpack has risks and is potentially dangerous — and it is illegal in some jurisdictions. Some of the issues are: The center of gravity is higher; if you wear helmets, your helmets may banged together; the child is quite vulnerable in a fall because the distance is higher and there is a greater chance of the infant ending up underneath the adult in a tumble; and the backpack provides less protection than a child seat or trailer. Slings would present similar issues, though in is a sling the child is lower down and their head is better supported, so it unlikely for the adult and child to bang heads — it is also unlikely that the child would be wearing a helmet.” 3
Should you cycle with your babes? Absolutely YES!
There are many great ways to cycle with your kids. You can use a trailer until they are old enough to sit unsupported, at which point you can move to a bike seat, as Lauren has with her child here. Lauren lives in Ontario.
Trailers can be be found for affordable prices on second hand boards, and now is the time to start looking. Often, you can buy a trailer or bike seat and then use the money from the resell to by your children their first bike.
Thank you to Kendra from FullCircleFeeding.com for providing us with her expertise for this article. Please read our other cycling articles Babywearing and cycling abroad and the Benefits of cycling for families. .
1. This website tracks all bicycle helmet laws from countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. You can check it out here. For more about bike helmet legislation in Canada, visit the Canadian Pediatric Society here.↩
2. Kendra is the owner of Full Circle Feeding, a business that helps families with breastfeeding, chest feeding, and just feeding their babies. They specialize in working with traditional and non-traditional families. From her website, “Non traditional family unit? Grandparent feeling out of touch? Nervous new father feeling left out?” Visit their website for more information.↩
3. To read more about what iBike has to say about early helmet wearing and babywearing while cycling, visit this page here.
October 15 2017 is the internationally recognized Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Awareness Day. For many women, the excitement over a positive pregnancy test doesn’t lead to that picture perfect moment of mom and baby cuddling and, in fact, an estimated one in five (other estimates say one in four) women will experience miscarriage or pregnancy loss in her lifetime.
Tonight is the International Wave of Light to mark Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. At 7:00 pm in time zones around the world, people will gather to light candles to create a wave of light in honour of the butterfly babies, those who were lost during pregnancy or shortly after birth. We ask the candle be lit for an hour, to make this light burn brightly for a 24-hour period around the globe in memory of all the babies who were lost.
I have experienced loss. My story begins when my husband Rob and I decided to start a family in 2013. We experienced a miscarriage at 10 weeks with our first pregnancy. This loss made me realize that becoming a mother happened the moment I found out I was pregnant. While I was treated for the physical effects of the miscarriage, we were not provided with any support service referrals. Which had a large impact on us at the time, especially since we did not know that programs such as the PAIL Network existed. The PAIL Network is dedicated to improving bereavement care and providing support to families or individuals who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy or the death of their baby/babies.
December 2015, a private member’s bill was passed in Ontario proclaiming October 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. This is second year it is commemorated. The bill sought to promise resources and support, as well as better research into perinatal loss and infant death. The Ontario-based Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Network has done research on the needs of families experiencing pregnancy and infant loss and has found that although women are treated medically by healthcare professionals, they are not treated for the psycho-emotional aspects.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada estimates that approximately 7/1000 babies in Canada are still born. Yet such experiences are largely misunderstood – they are rarely discussed in public and during prenatal care. A 2015 US study found that the general population believes miscarriage occurs in just 5% of all pregnancies, and that most often the cause is due to choices and actions of the mother. This misunderstanding about the prevalence and causes of pregnancy and infant loss generate and create a strong taboo, leaving families and individuals to experience their grief largely in isolation. In the case of a fatal diagnosis during pregnancy, stillbirth and infant loss, referral by medical practitioners is more common but often in the context of a traumatic and overwhelming time-strained consultation. Parents are not always provided with the time to process their grief.
In 2016, we decided to add again to our family. We passed the 12 week mark and I breathed a sigh of relief. After a routine ultrasound at 19 weeks, we found out that our son Aaron had no kidneys and that there was no chance that he would survive after birth. We were told that termination was the best option and that it must be done quickly. We were devastated, but after hearing his strong heartbeat and seeing his profile that looked so much like Gabriel, our son from our second birth, we decided to continue the pregnancy.
We were only referred to the Perinatal hospice program at Roger Neilson House after making this decision. The Perinatal hospice program at Roger Neilson House is a nurturing and safe place for families and individuals who have received a heartbreaking fatal prenatal diagnosis that will result in the death of their baby prior to, or shortly after birth. These parents have access to specialized care and support at Roger Neilson House. Support includes counselling, and emotional support to help parents make medical decisions about the pregnancy, delivery and the baby’s care, assisting with memory making (such as photographs) and ongoing bereavement care. We spent 100 precious minutes with Aaron after birth in June 2016. It was sad and hard, but it was beautiful. You can read our full story here. Roger Neilson House also offers a Perinatal Loss Bereavement Support Group. This group is available for parents who have lost a pregnancy beyond 20 weeks gestation, or an infant aged up to 28 days.
Many families have found this journey and the support offered through the Perinatal Hospice program to be very meaningful and healing.
Aaron’s Butterfly Run Ottawa/Gatineau was held yesterday in Ottawa to raise awareness for pregnancy and infant loss, and this wasn’t just any old kind of run. Aaron’s Butterfly Run is aiming to provide support and share resources in our community with those who experience pregnancy and infant loss. At Aaron’s Butterfly Run, we are doing everything we can to share our personal experiences and communicate with others about the pregnancy and infant loss resources that already exist in our community.
Through a grant from Just Change Ottawa, we are partnering with Mom Friends to create the Butterfly Box. This box will be a resource that is available at no cost for parents who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss in Ottawa/Gatineau.
If you are grieving because you have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, please know that I am thinking of you tonight as I light a candle in memory of my two butterfly babies. Please join us during the International Wave of Light today at 7:00 pm to light a candle in memory of all the butterfly babies. Leave the candle burning for at least an hour and create a ‘wave’ of light spanning the globe in honour of babies who were lost during pregnancy or shortly after birth.
I always knew that I wanted to be a mother of many, actually always wanting at least 7! However when we got babies six and seven together (twins!), my husband and I decided to have one more.
From day one, I knew I wanted to birth them all at home and I knew with out any doubt in my mind I wanted to breastfeed. I was determined growing up, I had many role models – my mom spoke of stories of my great grandmother birthing her babies at home on the reserve and stories about our great great grandmother who was a midwife on the reserve. I belong to the Ojibwe First Nation.1 My mom always answered my questions about breast feeding and spoke of the importance of breastmilk even if it’s in the first few feedings. I remember watching her nurse my youngest brother. My mother’s best friend who is like my Aunt was also a doula while I grew up and taught me so much about birth and breastfeeding before she became a midwife herself as I began my journey as a mother.
I didn’t start my family the typical way, I was young and only 15 when I got pregnant. Although because of the support I had, the traditions I learned growing up, I was already very knowledgeable on birth and breastfeeding. These family stories and these traditions were important. I knew from the moment I saw that positive pregnancy test I would birth my child at home and breastfeed. I am pretty strong-willed and I didn’t care what anyone told me about it.
So finally after 40 long weeks of waiting I got to meet my sweet first boy. I birthed him on my mother’s living room floor in front of the TV (I wasn’t actually watching the tv) after only 3 hours of labour. I was so determined to have him at home that after my ultrasound, I got checked because I thought labour had already started — and it had! I was already 6-7 cm dilated. I was given the option to get a birth room or go home. Stay? Not for me, thanks. I decided to go home and only an hour and a half after getting home I had a beautiful baby screaming and pink on my chest.
Shortly after I got to the bed and attempted his first latch, I was determined and nervous! Even with a full tongue tie he had he latched like a Champ and gained very well! We did have some ups and downs too. Eventually his latch started to affect his feeding at around 7 months, it shallowed and that meant he wasn’t gaining as well as he should. So I made the choice to pump till he was about 14 months old where I got pregnant with my second.
Breastfeeding hasn’t been smooth as every baby I’ve have had has their own quirks. Seven of my eight children have had tongue ties, two of them were bad enough that I felt they needed it to be revised. Even with the tongue ties, all my kids nursed wonderfully and latched like pros!
I was lucky enough to give birth to my twins at home. I had to fight for my right as a mother to birth my babies the way I felt was safest. I was determined to birth them at home regardless of protocol and policies laid by hospitals and insurance companies! Unless it was medically necessary to go to a hospital I was staying home. I did a ton of research and knew the risks in twin pregnancies and births for the type of twins I was having. I searched long and hard for care providers who would support me. I had back up support in case my local midwife wasn’t able to pull a team together. It was only at the last minute, only about a week before I went into labour that I was told I’d have local support a team of at least four midwifes. Though seven midwives actually came to my home.
The twins were born at 37 weeks, after an amazing painless labour, I danced with my husband and and sang through the waves of contractions, and laboured by candle light with soft music playing same as I had birth with most of my little ones. My first water broke and I decided to wait a few more contractions before getting in the pool. I got in and midwife came up check on me things were still so calm , three of the seven midwives were still out at lunch. She went back down and I decided to check my self only seconds later. A strong intuition told me to check and sure enough baby A was right there head down no feeling of pressure or anything. I call down for the midwife and I looked at my husband and told him he had four minutes to empty a bit of water and get in if he wanted to catch our first twin. I start to feel the wave and told him to get in and not even seconds later baby A shot right out with out any pushing into mine and my husband’s hands. We lifted him up and snuggle him and showered him in love. I listened for baby B and and felt his position and had midwife confirm. Soon decided it was time to birth Baby B I handed baby A off to daddy and started to get into position. When baby B’s water broke and almost immediately after he shot out across the pool bottom first. Midwife jumping in quickly to catch him only 19 minutes later. The three midwives who were out at lunch came in about then. I snuggled baby B and loved on him also before realizing I wanted to snuggle both of them on my chest. So I moved to the bed and they latched amazingly.
They gained weight rapidly. This, however was a new experience in itself! Nursing two tiny little babies juggling them seemed so intimidating at first despite having nursed five babies prior and tandem nursed many, having twins was different. However once they started nursing it was like we were in complete sync. I had an abundance of milk and nursed on demand. I’d tandem nurse them while I tandem wore them. It was the way we got through daily.
To me, breastfeeding isn’t a linear journey there are many different paths. It’s been an amazing journey to have been able to nurse all my babies! I nursed eight babies in 11 years, each weaning anywhere from 14 months to four and a half years. I also know how blessed I am to be able to tandem nurse toddlers and the unique blessing of nursing twins. I believe it created a bond and a closeness for all of my children and I and I wouldn’t change a thing. There is something very special about growing a baby withing your body that you created and feeding them with milk for the you’ve created. And to continue to help them grow with this milk. It’s so special.
All pictures supplied by Amy McNally and Blessed Touch Photography.
Amy belongs to the Pic Mobert Band of the Ojibwe Nation. Visit the Pic Mobert website herehere.
A journey to Canadian
Sunmi studied sports medicine in her undergrad, and was already looking to study in the United States, but then she met a Canadian….
… And then she fell in love…
Tell me about your journey.
I was working at the time, for a company that hires English language instructors to send them to Samsung, LG, Humex, Coca Cola, we’re dealing with big companies. I got a job there to learn English before I could come to study in the US. So one of the coworkers that was working there, she was Korean Canadian. She saw me working every weekend because I wanted to make as much money as possible for my studies. Working there was good because I could study at the same time, so she saw me working and she said,
“You are a fine looking women, why are you working every weekend? You have no boyfriend?”
“No, I have no boyfriend.”
“I have a really cute friend. He’s from Toronto, he’s very good looking, he’s very sweet, he’s very cute. But he’s white.”
So I was like, “Uh, no.” So she was very persistent for a few months, telling me and showing me his picture. She organized a gathering in a big izakaya, she invited 15 friends of hers. This would be a good opportunity to practice my English, it wouldn’t be one on one. I met Tom and he said he was going back to Canada in a couple of months, and I said there is no way I am dating this guy. He messaged me, and I messaged him back three days later and I was so not interested. But at the time, I was lonely, and I wanted to practice my English. Also I was telling myself, Sunmi, you don’t have to meet a guy who you can only get married to.You can just meet guys just for fun, even just for the short period of time. Who cares? Who knows about the future? Just let it be, just let yourself go, just go hang out with him.
Yeah, you can just go out for fun. It’s scary though, still.
I started hanging out with him for about two months, then he left to Canada. But he was visiting his family for a month, but the whole month I was waiting for him. I missed him. I was counting the days, counting the time, and then when he came back, I said okay. This is okay, it’s okay to fall in love this way, even if he is going to leave, let it be. The period of time that I am going to meet him, if I feel love, if I make good memories with him, that’s all that matters. I had two boyfriends before when I was in university and it didn’t go well even though I thought I was going to be married to them. I didn’t get married to them. We broke up. Even married couples they divorce.
That’s the thing, you’re right, you cannot predict life.
Exactly. That’s the moment that I said, let go, just don’t get obsessed with it, just enjoy, you love him now, so let’s see where this takes you.
And now you’re Canadian. Look at what happened!
Yes, now I am Canadian living in Ottawa. And then he was very interested in this health field actually, so he brought up this school of naturopathic medicine.
“What is that?” I had no idea about this.
He said, “There’s a clinic there where you can practice after you finish, you know, the school teaches you how to become a doctor without using pharmaceutical medicine.”
“Oh that sounds amazing.”
We applied together, we got accepted together, we came together, but he didn’t start. But I did.
He had an opportunity to start the business, so I said let’s put the eggs in a different basket. The school is not going anywhere, if the business doesn’t go well you can start the school anytime. To do that he moved away to Montreal and I was left in Toronto. I was so lonely, I was crying every day, I was calling him, “I don’t want to do this,” you know because it was so stressful.
We learned everything the medical school students learn on top of that, we learn all the natural remedies, botanical medicine, acupuncture, homeopathic is one of them and a lot of intensive nutritional courses. My English wasn’t 100%. I think I only understood 70% of what everything was said in class.
So you had to try that much harder.
So I recorded every lecture and I subscribed after and I typed the notes again. I had to work twice the amount of time that everyone else. I would miss out so much, I would think, “What did she say?” So I recorded every single lecture. And reading takes way longer time than everyone else, these guys would read 20 to 30 pages in one hour, I would take 5-6 hours. One period of time, I was sleeping with this recording file on so my subconscious brain records what is said.
Somehow, I got through it. It was four years. I don’t know how many times I cried.
And his business it didn’t go well, it didn’t go as he expected so after a couple of years, he came down to Toronto. You start something, it doesn’t work well, there is a cost to it.
You paid because of the distance between the two cities, the effort to stay in contact. The cost of energy to work so much on a small business because you put in more time than at a regular job and then the actual money.
You spend your own money to survive. It costs money to maintain, for my practice, I have to pay for things that come out regularly out of your bank account.
And then he got a job at Costco and that’s why we moved to Ottawa. I finished my school and he was promoted, so he transferred to the headquarters. Timing was good, but we had to move from Toronto to Ottawa
Tom was like, “Um Sunmi, we have to move to a different city, are you okay with it?”
I told him, “I flew half the globe following you. Moving from this dot to this dot doesn’t make any difference to me.”
Even the marriage, a lot of disappointment comes from expectations about your husband or your wife. I formed that expectation in my own head without telling anyone. My husband is not a mind reader, he does not know what kind of expectations I am forming in my own head with my own laws and experiences, he is living in a different world. He is a man, he has different experiences, different expectations, different logic. When you form the story of your life with your own logic, but I expect him to know what I want without telling him “You should know what I want. Why don’t you do this that I really wanted you to do, that I never told you to do, so you should do this.” This is a conflict. I keep telling myself, “explain to him if this is what you want, explain to him. Don’t form unfair expectations in your own head and expect him to know.” Expectations forms a lot of conflicts in different types of relationships that’s why I was telling myself.
What you need to do when you come to a new situation when there is a misunderstanding is just accept that’s who they are.
What was it like to decide to babywear, was it even a question of doing otherwise?
I just feel like he wants to be carried, that’s how he sleeps the best, I feed him to sleep and I try to put him on the bed, time for me. But then he wakes up in ½ an hour, but if I carry him, he sleeps for 2 to 3 hours no problem. There must be a reason he feels more comfortable on me, that’s what I was thinking.
That is a Western thought. That you need to grow up. In order to be strong, you need to impart strength from a very early age.
That is way too early, they just came out of the womb.They trust the world better, it shapes their brain in a different way.
And what about other things, what was hard to get used to in Canada?
Metric system is a real struggle. In medicine, I use EMR an electronic medical recording system. And then would record weight in kilograms and height in inches. Stuff like that. And I don’t have sense in miles and inches and pounds.
And buying. Okay I am a big online shopper. When I was in Korea I was buying the stuff online and there you buy online, it gets to your door the next day. If it takes long, the longest time would be three days. People would get mad because Korea is such a small country. The whole size of Korea is 1/3 of Ontario, like a Giant Toronto. We have 55 million people living in a tiny country, it has good logistic systems like high speed internet because land is so small, population is so concentrated those infrastructures are so easy to layout. Subway system is like a spider web. Here I order something and “WOW it take a two weeks to get here, sometimes a month!”
What things did you find were weird about Canada and Canadians?
Not saying things that you see. I mean things that even you see obviously, like someone walking around with something on their face, you wouldn’t say anything because you were afraid of offending that person. That would be very rare in Korea, someone would definitely come up to you and tell you had something on your face and then they would just walk away. You would say, “Oh thank you!” That would be the end of it. We wouldn’t think twice, if I say this would that person be ashamed.
So the person receiving the comment, they would not get offended about that.
Some people complain about that culture too because we can be very blunt and very frank. First thing, if I gain weight, then you saw me and it’s been awhile, “Oh I see that you gained some weight!” Some people hate that. “What happened to your face, you have some acne going on. What happened.” Here they never say it, even if you have a zit right on your forehead, they don’t say a word. That’s the biggest difference I felt.
I like learning about my country through the eyes of others. Thank you very much for bringing me into your home, Sunmi, and telling me about your journey.
Sunmi and I originally met October 15, 2016, and we spoke for about four hours. This article is a condensed and edited version of our interview. Her story, like many, was so interesting it became a three part series. The first is called Growing up Korean. The second article is called Becoming Canadian, where she shares how she moved to Canada and then stayed.
Sunmi Cha is a full trained and license naturopathic doctor in Ottawa. Visit her website here.
A generation ago, the idea of bringing a baby to a museum would cause even the most daring of parents to break out in a cold sweat. All those priceless artifacts and tight rooms! But the world of curation has come along way and modern museums are now being designed around the needs and interests of young visitors, including tiny ones. And even heritage properties are being refurbished to make challenging spaces more user friendly for all visitors. The shift from “see and don’t speak” to “touch and talk” is perfect for babywearing parents, who can take advantage of their free hands to help children interact with exhibits, confidently explore outdoor exhibits with uneven terrain, and introduce babies to a new world of learning, stimulation, and entertainment.
Here are some of Canada’s most remarkable, child friendly museums – perfect places for celebrating Canada Day or just for passing the time on a quiet afternoon.
Father’s day is a good time for us as Canadians to reflect on a couple of things. Like the importance of men in our children’s lives.
As women have expanded their careers and moved into the workforce, there has been a slow, but constant movement of dads increasing their roles at home. Dads, more than ever before, are involved in raising their kids and helping out around the house.
As Katherine Marshall indicates in a Statistics Canada report from 2011, “As women have increased their hours of paid work, men have steadily increased their share of household work.” Though huge gaps still remain between the amount of time spent on child care and household chores, the truth is that our men have been pitching in.1
Has our culture made space for men in childrearing, do we have policies that really support dads, to let them become nurturers and be involved in raising their children from the very first moment?
Only if you’re in Quebec.
Quebec opted out of the federal program and manages their own. They offer the best deal around when it comes to leave after a child is born. To start, they only require you earn $2,000 before you are eligible for leave. This means that 87.4% of new mothers in Quebec qualified for leave. How does that compare? If you were in the rest of Canada, only 71.9% qualified, leaving a significant gap.2 What else does Quebec do? They pay more overall, reaching 75% as opposed to our 55%. And Quebec has just announced it will be increasing their total amount before you hit the ceiling. Moreover, there are five weeks of paternity leave in Quebec. Yep, five weeks just for men. So what has this done for men? In Quebec, 78% of all men take leave in the first year to year and a half of their children’s lives. As opposed to 27% in the rest of Canada. Parents in Quebec also get to break up their leave as needed, and can opt into two plans: one at 52 weeks, or one at 70. (Taking the longer plan in Quebec means less money per week.) Other things the Quebec system does is accommodate self-employed individuals, and both parents can take leave at the same time.
Deliberate policy changes in Quebec to increase access to parental leave and to provide families with more support has worked.
What do Canadians in the rest of the country currently have?
So what did the federal government do for the rest of Canada?
Be still my beating heart. How does this help families?
It is a known fact that first time parents on the current leave system rely on money in savings or on help from family members to bring them through. And they rely heavily on the income of their spouse during this time. The research is quite clear, you want to support families? Supporting childcare to allow parents to return to work is much more effective.
In an interview with Brian Russell, coordinator of Dad Central Ontario, he said:
“My big concern is that from a financial perspective, they’ve done nothing. Stretching it to 18 months with the same amount of benefits because people are losing money in the long-run and it’s a step backwards. This hurts low income marginalized families.”4
According to Jennifer Robson, in her report called Parental Benefits in Canada: Which way forward?, she outlines several important factors, which include:
But when we look at the current government’s proposal, do we see any support for increasing the number of parents who receive leave, to building something to support more families, and providing more income? The answer is clearly no.
And what about dad only leave? What about letting dad’s role in early childhood be recognized as important?
According to Robson, our focus shouldn’t be creating token leave for dads. She believes that dad only leave could exacerbate inequalities, making it harder for single parent families, particularly as most lone parents are still women.
Looking at the last budget though, we had line item after line item of policies structured to support the role and development of women in our country. And let me be clear, women are very much still needing the support as we are still paid less for one hour of work as compared to men. In Canada alone, women earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by men, and this is when they are working the same jobs. This is extremely problematic and cannot be ignored.6 But how are women supposed to advance if we do not allow men the space to enter in the places where we no longer want to be the only ones in charge? A mirroring has to occur.
Russell hates the word token:
“Token feels like that’s a nice thing to do, it doesn’t have substance. It might be a token thing at the beginning but behind that tokenism is something very real. And sustained by research. When dads spend time with their young kids, those kids do better. And dads do better. And families do better. What may look like tokenism at the beginning, ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road it is not a token thing. We’re not even having this discussion, it’s just a part of who we are.”
Russell goes on to say: “We have a cultural hangover that men don’t take that leave. I don’t think we should give dads more than what we give the moms. If we identify something for fathers, that encourages more father to take it. We’re trying to give dads a different opportunity than what they had in the past with their kids.”
Robson herself even states at one point:
“Previous reviews on the behavioural response of both fathers and employers to policy change suggests that, when a new minimum threshold for leave is introduced, individuals and organizations are likely to respond by anchoring their behaviour to the new “normal” threshold (Robson 2010).”6
So why aren’t men talking about it?
Russell’s personal opinion is:
“From the men’s perspective, sometimes we are afraid to speak up because we are going to be seen as patriarchal and controlling. When men begin to ask for attention or to address their needs for relationship and care, the tendency is to think they are asserting their rights in demanding and patronizing ways. Attacking men like this is also very stereotypical. We treat them as emotionally immature, expecting them to “man up”, and therefore they are denied their right to their emotions.”
It could also be that men simply aren’t being asked. Brian Russell agreed to the interview because I was the first person to contact him to talk about these things.
It’s clear that the proposed changes to our parental leave system are simply good optics, nothing more:
These are all things from a gender equity perspective, a lower threshold to qualify, a higher salary replacement rate, more support for low income families would benefit everyone.
But if we’re truly looking to increase father involvement? We need to have a dad only leave. How will we change the culture around childrearing without it?
Why wouldn’t the federal government just take Quebec’s model and adopt in nationally? It’s proven to work better than the current system. I’d like the answer to that one myself.
I’d like to leave you with one last thought. Russell states:
“If it’s anybody’s rights [parental leave], it’s the kids’ rights. Kids have a right to have healthy parents. The kids are the end users in this discussion for me. The dads aren’t. I don’t support father involvement for the good of the men. All this stuff is about what can I do for my child to have the best environment possible. I support father involvement for the good of the men the kids need them to be.”
Brian Russell spoke about Father Involvement at the Second Babywearing in Canada Conference. His session is available here.
1. Katherine Marshall. 2011. “Generational change in paid and unpaid work”. Canadian Social Trendsno. 92. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no.11-008-X. (accessed July 27, 2011) Visit website here. ↩
2. Taken from a Statistics Canada report called Families, living arrangments and unpaid work. ↩
3. Globe and Mail article called Seven things to know about Canada’s new parental leave benefits.↩
4. Interview with Brian Russell, coordinator of Dad Central Ontario, April 11, 2017. ↩
5. IRPP Study, No. 63, March 2017. Report can be accessed here. Things left unsolved by both systems: Uneven access to top-ups, and poor coordination with social services. There are families who earn less than the basic income on your tax statement and once you hit $17,000 annual income you are effectively unable to take any sort of leave.↩
6. Taken from Statistics Canada report called Women and paid work. ↩
7. IRPP Study, No. 63, March 2017, Parental Benefits in Canada: Which Way Forward?, p 21. Robson continues: In some cases, this could actually lead to a reduction in the frequency or duration of leave relative to what would have happened in the absence of a policy change. I am not able to determine, from the EICS data, trends in leave-taking by fathers outside the EI system or the duration of the leave taken. But to have a large impact, a benefit reserved for fathers would have to be large enough to induce them to increase their rate of leave-taking significantly, relative to what would otherwise have occurred. One of the places we can do this is in our maternity and parental leave provisions. But if you look at the proposed changes by the federal government, not one mention of adding a paternity leave has been included.↩