We've certainly made major strides in the women's movement this past year. The #MeToo movement went global, with millions around the world sharing their stories and advocating for change. Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on allowing women to drive. After years of campaigning and protesting, women were finally allowed to take the wheel. Even the 2018 midterm elections made history, with more women running for congress and winning than ever before.
Although there's much to celebrate this International Women's Day, it's also a moment to reflect on the change that still needs to happen. One of the more personal movements for me is the conversation surrounding maternity leave and working mothers.
After having my child, I realized just how much we as a society need to acknowledge the importance of parenting, and that it's a full-time job. I wasn't too surprised to learn from a recent survey provided by Instant Offices, that European countries are leading the way with some of the most progressive maternity leave packages for working mothers.
Women account for 40% or more of the total labor force in several countries, so it's imperative that the necessary resources are provided. For the United States, this couldn't be more true. The law most women rely on is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which protects women's jobs for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption, however it doesn't guarantee pay for the time off.
Perhaps we can take a cue from Sweden, who provides 480 days of maternity leave. The research found that Sweden has the most progressive working environments for parents, exceeding international standards. Parents are entitled to up to 80% of their regular pay for 390 of the 480 days of maternity leave provided. And the key word here is parents.
Each parent receives 240 of the 480 days of paid paternal leave, is entitled to 90 days exclusively for him or her and has the right to shorten their work hours by up to 25% until the child turns eight.
Norway was close behind, offering 49 weeks with 100% pay and 59 weeks with 80% pay. Croatia even offers a year of paid maternity leave with 100% pay. In addition to a year of being able to bond with your new-born, full paid parental leave is available for 120 days. What's even more impressive is their attitude towards mothers at work. Workers who are expecting are provided with free ante and post-natal and medical care, mothers have breastfeeding breaks of over an hour until the child is one, and workers are protected from dismissals during pregnancy and maternity leave.
What this tells us is that these countries prioritize the job of raising children more than the US does. The United States is great when it comes to work opportunity, but we don't see raising children as part of this "work." I had a baby when I was 43, and I have been blown away by both the amount of joy that is involved AND how much actual work is involved to raise an emotionally and physically healthy kid.
What has been most shocking about the experience is that despite millions of Americans being parents, there is little shared or known about the level of work that is involved, until you actually have one. Why is this?
I believe this is happening because we as a culture don't prioritize and value parenting as much as paid work. Stay-at-home mothers and fathers are not high on the hierarchy of revered careers. It's not even considered a real job to some.
Many times, people pretend to have it all and don't share what goes on behind the scenes at home, because it's not culturally acceptable to spend more time parenting than working in a paid job. Women and men are not supported by their organizations in a way that allows them to be completely present. In fact, most parents continue to maintain 40 plus hour work weeks with lots of work travel. If they appear to be less available than their childless colleagues, then they could miss out on opportunities.
Knowing that we're a long way off from having the kind of support Sweden and Norway provide, we need to start making changes ourselves. The change needs to start with people being open and honest with the reality of what parenting involves. Having a child should be viewed for what it is, taking on an additional fulltime job (even more to be perfectly honest).
And that might mean that if you don't have a ton of flexibility in your career, that it may take a backseat. Hopefully these conversations will start happening more frequently, and an increased consciousness into the thought of having children and what that actually entails will become a common practice in the work force.