On Tuesday May 2, over 250 families strolled down Independence Avenue in Washington, D.C. And by “strolled”, I mean literally — moms and dads took to the streets on foot, pushing their babies and kids in strollers. They hailed from near and far (in fact, there was at least one representative from all 50 states), and were there for one important reason: to participate in “Strolling Thunder,” an event that will hopefully lead to legislative improvements in both family leave and infant care.
Organized by the nonprofit Zero to Three, the event also included over 150 one-on-one meetings between American families and members of Congress.
Elizabeth Wahl, a mother of two from Wisconsin who attended the event, tells Babble that the experience of being on Capitol Hill with her 11-month old was thrilling. As a social worker and staff member with the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health, Wahl knows first-hand just how critical the first three years of a child’s life are in preparing for a healthy and successful future. She also says that every legislator she met with was interested, engaged, and had plenty of questions about how they could help support the mission of Zero to Three and Strolling Thunder.
Matthew Melmed, who has served as Executive Director of Zero to Three for the past 23 years, tells Babble that he believes babies deserve to have their voices heard — and that’s precisely what this movement is all about. As the organization’s name implies, Zero to Three believes in the importance of babies having a strong start in life, especially from birth to age three. Only when they receive proper healthcare, nutrition, nurturing, and love, can babies truly thrive. As the nonprofit’s website states: “At Zero to Three, we envision a society that has the knowledge and will to support all infants and toddlers in reaching their full potential.”
And those needs are met with affordable, quality childcare, accessible health insurance, and better family leave.
“There is nothing more important to us than our babies,” Wahl told legislators on Capitol Hill yesterday. “Parents should not have to sacrifice quality for affordability when choosing childcare.”
Despite being one of the most developed nations in the world, a large percentage of American mothers still receive little to no maternity leave. Coupled with the skyrocketing costs of childcare in this country, parents are oftentimes forced to make difficult childcare decisions that compromise what’s best for their families.
As Wahl tells Babble, she and her husband are prime examples of that — they are no longer homeowners, and have switched to renting in order to afford childcare. But Zero to Three and Strolling Thunder are hoping to help families just like her’s, so that raising a family becomes less of a financial burden, and kids have a more secure path to success.
Melmed adds that he’s very optimistic the U.S. will see improvements in the ways we care for babies soon, as there’s a greater increase in parental interest than ever before.
“Parents know what it means when they can’t be home to bond with their baby,” Melmed tells Babble. “We know now what science tells us about how a parent-child connection impacts brain development. There’s an awareness that wasn’t there 10 years ago.”
And Melmed hopes that this new awareness and the impact of events just like Strolling Thunder will prompt changes at the Congressional level. Specifically, Zero to Three is asking Congress to: Create a national paid family leave program, extend early Head Start to eligible infants and toddlers in poverty, ensure all families can afford quality childcare, and work to improve mental health programs that begin in infancy.
Research shows that babies who receive proper care and time to bond with their parents are more likely to succeed academically and in the workforce, are more likely to have good mental health, are less likely to face a life of crime, and are less likely to have health issues like high blood pressure as adults. Hopefully with passionate voices like Matthew Melmed’s and Elizabeth Wahl’s, Congress will also hear the voices of our nation’s youngest citizens.
Our babies are our future. They deserve proper care and frankly, if we don’t take care of them, we will all suffer the consequences.