As you prepare another round of milk for your baby, you spy the clock and sigh at how little sleep you’ve had this week. Your baby starts to cry. As you soothe her, you glance down at your phone - and see you missed a call from your boss.

New mothers and fathers around the world find the first few weeks of family life are among the most demanding, not just in caring for their child but also keeping money coming in. Yet many find that parental leave policies are insufficient and unsupportive in the precious early days of parenthood. While countries such as Estonia, Sweden and Norway lead the way in providing generous state-funded parental leave, the United States remains the only developed country where parents are not granted similar national coverage. It means that many new fathers there are thrust back into work earlier than mothers – reinforcing gender disparities and fueling what sociologists call the 'motherhood penalty'.

The challenges for parents don't end when baby care settles into a more predictable routine and mothers consider returning to work. Many mothers struggle to re-establish their career after weeks and months away from the workplace – places that are often less than conducive to new parents - and find their professional aspirations and future earnings take a direct hit as a result of raising a family. One working paper says a typical mother in Germany after 10 years earns 61 percent less than before giving birth, while fathers’ salaries are unaffected. And while there is less money coming in professional childcare costs mount, with parents spending as much time and mental effort balancing the books as they do on their baby.

What’s needed to improve prospects for new mothers and fathers and safeguard the well-being of their children? 

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with: 
Zitha Mokomane @UPTuks
Associate Professor, University of Pretoria 

Caitlyn Collins @CaitlynMCollins
Assistant Professor, University of Washington in St. Louis

Johan Bävman 
Creator of “Swedish Dads” 

Read more:
Gender penalty: Student debt and daycare stifle American mothers – Al Jazeera
Support Kenya’s working mothers, says MP booted from parliament – Al Jazeera

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