22 January 2008

Family Values (I wish I was a Swede)

The next time some Republican yahoo is pontificating about how important family values are and how they will work, with the grace of God, if elected to solidify the family unit in America, think about the fact that the Family Medical Leave Act provides exactly ZERO paid time off and only 12 whole weeks of job-protected leave (and that last part only applies to larger organizations and companies, some of which may fork over some paid time inside that 12 weeks - if you're so lucky).

At the same time, those crazy socialists up north in Canada grant 14 MONTHS of paid time off after child birth and across the pond in Sweden, a couple is able to share in 18 freakin' MONTHS away from work (at 80% pay) to raise their newborn baby. Amazing how much family matters in this country. Maybe we should just keep praying that everything will work out with our kids when we drop them off at daycare at 12 weeks old (or younger if a family cannot be without one of it's paychecks for that long - which I imagine is most of 'em these days.)

In fact, according to a 2004 study by Harvard University, only 5 countries out of 168 fail to offer some form of standardized paid maternity leave. The grand ol' U.S. is one of those special five, along with Australia, Lesotho (?), Papua New Guinea and Swaziland (which sounds totally made up). Sweet.

Is there a problem we face as a country that cannot be traced back, in it's infancy, to family/home life? Too many homicides and gun-totting crazies? Maybe if they had a better education, yes, but what about if they had a better home as a child? Take it all the way back. Think about everything that ails us as a nation and try to find something that doesn't have it's roots, even just a seedling, in childhood/parenting/the way we were raised...and by whom (parents or daycare providers juggling the attention and needs of a dozen children at once)

Twenty to twenty five years ago middle class families had just one parent working, most of them it seemed. Now, to stay afloat almost every kid has both parents away from the home for 8+ hours a day from birth, just about. Is this because we crave too much stuff and need two incomes to fund our Hummer, Nintendo Wii, HDTV, Dining out habits? Probably. Would we function better if we, as a nation, WANTED LESS in general? Probably. But, the corporations wouldn't like that very much, nor would their stockholders. Pervasive and non-stop advertising helping American kids and adults alike feel inadequate if they don't have the latest and greatest widget surely plays some role in this complex puzzle of economic failure at the family level...right? But so does the fact that we as parents in the Unites States are not provided the opportunity to nurture our children from birth and enjoy their early moments at home.

What the hell kind of Family Value is that exactly, Mr. President and members of congress? Maybe some of that war budget could be better served to subsidize family maternity leave in the coming years? Might not protect us from the new terrorists our actions in Iraq have given birth too, but it might just protect us from ourselves.



Bogart in P Towne said...

Makes it awful difficult on small companies...Denmark is a good example. Women get 32 weeks paid...men get 10 after the birth/adoption of a child. If the woman does not want to use all 32 weeks, she can gift it to her husband, theoretically both getting around 5 months off, with full pay and their job waiting for them when they get back...if that is a small company, what are they to do? How do they afford it? How do they cover the loss of the employee. I don't think you are completely wrong, but there are so many moving parts, we need to make sure we consider them all.

I would hate to see companies with less than 5 or 10 or even 20 employees cripled or put out of business because one of their key people gets pregnant. Think that might lead to further sex discrimination? I would have a tough time hiring women in their child-bearing years out of the fear of what it would do to my company...just my $0.02...fwiw.

Jeff - OWTK said...

Very valid points. Thanks for the comment. I considered that impact, both financial (helped by the subsidy) and the lack of a body (temps depending on the profession?). Thing is, there is a template out there that is working, on a smaller country scale. I assume there are small companies up North and in Scandinavia that continue to exist when one of their people goes out on maternity leave. How do they manage? Not sure, need to look into the nitty-gritty of the policy further.

You're right about the possible discrimination. Thing is, with men also able to share in the benefit, it may be damn near impossible to discriminate...unless you hire only those under 10 and over 50!

A worthwhile debate that needs to be conducted at higher levels, for sure.

headless chicken said...

Wow! Came over from blurbomat on a RARE moment of free time. I could not agree with your post more, or your follow up comment! I am linking to you from my mommy blog!

Erin said...

Amen! That was very powerful to read, and very true. I am a teacher, and was kind enough to plan my due date for early June. My six weeks was up on July 28. Our first day back to school? July 29.

I didn't get a single day off from my school district. My maternity leave was my summer "vacation" so they didn't have to "waste" a single sub day on me.

Jeff - OWTK said...

That was nice of you to work your pregnancy around the school calendar! haha. Thanks for the comment.

Look for a "Fix-FMLA" activism site in the near future.