The Comparisons Between Parental Leave in the U.S. and Worldwide Are Heartbreaking

It’s no secret that when it comes to paid parental leave, the U.S. lags far behind the rest of the world. According to a 2018 study from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. is the only developed country that does not mandate paid leave for new parents.

Reddit user mrgarborg, who lives in Norway, recently posted on the r/Parenting subreddit praising his country’s parental leave policy, calling it “the best thing that ever happened to me.” Parents in Norway can take up to 49 weeks of paid leave with their full salary, or 59 weeks with 80% of their salary.

The time mrgarborg spends with his daughter is hugely valuable to their relationship. “I’ve stayed at home with my baby daughter every day for 2 months, and the bond that has developed between us is absolutely amazing,” mrgarborg said. “Before this she usually needed her mommy exclusively when she woke up at night or if she felt uncomfortable. Although she recognized me and accepted me, she clearly didn’t feel as close to me as her mom. Now, if she wakes up at night I can pick her up, and she will hug me tightly and coo before falling back asleep.”

He continued to express how grateful he is for the ability to share so many formative moments with his daughter, and extended sympathy to his less fortunate stateside peers. Many responses were heartbreaking though some hopeful that the U.S. may soon catch up.

“My husband got to take a week off – because he’d saved up his vacation time for a year,” U.S.-based CaffeineFueledLife said

User averagecow shared a dismally similar experience. “Husband had a week of vacation he saved. I got 11 weeks but only reason I had a paycheck while on FMLA was saving years (literally… years) of sick time up. Went past due…. worked until I had my kid. No time off.”

Many moms lamented their early returns to work after the physical and emotional toll of having C-sections. “Had a C-section with my first, received 10 DAYS of maternity leave from work, my husband had zero,” user ilovepokemanz said. “I had to use up my entire PTO (1.5 weeks) to get a bit more time, leaving me with zero time off for the remainder of the year. It was, and is, a fucking nightmare.”

One mom, a nurse, spent six weeks on maternity leave—but wasn’t able to return to work after such a short leave due to a severe combination of postpartum depression and anxiety. The mom’s company found her in breach of her three-year employee contract and she now owes the company $10,000.

Many countries, however, are light years ahead of the U.S. and on par with Norway’s hefty parental leave policies. Moms in Bulgaria are entitled to a little over a year’s worth of maternity leave—at almost 80% of the mom’s salary. In Croatia, moms receive 30 weeks of maternity leave, fully paid. Fathers in Nordic countries, like margarborg, “take more parental leave than fathers anywhere else in the world,” according to Nordic Information on Gender(NIKK).

Yes, the U.S. does have The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives employees up to 12 weeks of leave a year. But the leave is not required to be paid, and the act only extends to companies with at least 50 employees. Also, parents are only entitled to FMLA benefits if they’ve worked for the company at least one year.

It’s clear that U.S. leave policy needs a major revamp, for all types of parents—moms, dads, adoptive and surrogate parents, and newly minted guardians. Like user mrgarborg, who concluded his post by wishing for improved policies in the 2020 election cycle, we hope that significant changes can be made to improve the lives and wellness of new parents ASAP.