Alva James-Johnson

Alva James-Johnson: Fourth brings special time for memories

Every Fourth of July, I'm flooded with pleasant memories of family cookouts, colorful fireworks displays and just the general feeling of national pride.

It's one of my favorite times of year, and today I plan to spend the day enjoying the festivities with my family members. I imagine most of you will be doing the same.

But there's one other reason why the Fourth of July weekend has a special place in my heart. Fourteen years ago today, I was pregnant with my second child, and two days later gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was a millennium baby, and a wonderful bundle of joy.

So, today, I celebrate two births -- that of the nation and of my soon-to-be, 14-year-old daughter. She's currently in Virginia spending a few weeks with relatives, but her birthday will not be forgotten. I've already ordered a special delivery. I hope this column doesn't ruin the surprise.

To be sure, there's something magical about being an expectant mother and having a life growing inside of you. If I hadn't believed in God then, I certainly would've converted. How else could I explain such a miracle?

When my daughter was born on July 6, 2000, I wanted to be with her every minute of the day so I wouldn't miss any incremental development. Luckily, I had become a stay-at-home mom after the birth of my first daughter. So I was able to spend the toddler years with both of my children, helping them get a good start in life.

Yet, today, as we celebrate our national heritage, I can't help but wonder whether we're still a country that values such family ideals. A recent report, released by the National Partnership for Women and Families, found that working mothers and fathers in the United States get little support when their newborn babies arrive. Seventeen states, including Georgia and Alabama, received an "F" for policies regarding paid leave and workplace rights for new parents. California received an A- and most states fell somewhere in between.

The study, "Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents," was released a week before President Barack Obama, lawmakers, businesses, workers and advocates met in the nation's capital for a White House Summit on Working Families. If you get a chance, checkout the study online.

According to the report, the United States is among only a few countries who don't guarantee paid leave for new mothers. Not only do 181 other nations guarantee such benefits, but 81 also provide leave for fathers as well. Imagine that?

Of course, we do have the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, which allows for 12 weeks unpaid leave. But the key word there is "unpaid," and many families can't afford that kind of arrangement.

"New mothers and fathers should not have to experience financial hardship at what should be one of the happiest times of their lives," said National Partnership President Debra L. Ness. "Yet tens of millions of expecting and new parents struggle because our nation fails to provide paid leave and other workplace protections."

The Obama administration seems to be working on the problem. But it will take all of us to make family and children a priority, and not just on holidays.

Fourth of July is a great time to reflect on what kind of nation we want to be when the fireworks are over.

So have a good one!