As you probably know, the US is the only developed country with no guarantee of paid parental leave. Suriname and Papua New Guinea are only other countries in the world that share this lack of protection for families. A version of this graphic, from Think Progress, is circulated from time to time, but as I find myself in the uniquely American situation of trying to design and pay for my maternity leave, it helps to remind myself that this is not how things are done in the rest of the world. Elsewhere, the time that parents need to bond and stabilize themselves and their families is respected, even revered. So much so that this support is paid for by public funds. I can tell you that this kind of a system sounds downright luxurious to some of the many many American families who go it alone as they grow their families. But we must remember that having children is not a luxury. It is what is required to continue the human race! If we all stopped doing it because we were busy working – well, humanity would end. No exaggeration needed.
Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of concrete support for families who are planning and raising their families right now. Hopefully that will change with our next president – a more realistic hope may be that my daughter and son will not have to grapple with these issues if and when they have their own families.
But what we can do now as parents, friends, employers, colleagues, is to be on the lookout for the attitudes and expectations that we have come to hold because of what this lack of policy has communicated to generations of Americans. Are you a mother doubting your commitment and value to your work because you are taking a maternity leave? Are you a co-worker who is annoyed at having to cover for a new mother or father? Are you an employer who is hesitant to hire or promote a woman because you fear she will be derailed when she starts a family? These questions (should) make us cringe but they reflect what many young families have to grapple with – and at a time that is already filled with a great deal of adjustment and stress. My point is, we can change the way we think about and treat new parents. And new parents can feel empowered to demand more for themselves. Even if all it amounts to is fewer sideways glances at first, it’s a start.
Find even more comprehensive data here, from Citation.