Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sweden does it again

Yesterday, a friend sent me a really interesting article on the proposed extension of paid paternal leave in Sweden.

Anyone familiar with US law will note a few interesting tidbits in that sentence:
  1. Paternal leave - yep, something nonexistent in the US
  2. Paid - the mother of all qualifiers. 
  3. Extension - which means that not only did they already have it, they're making it better.
Excuse me while the waves of jealousy rage over me...

Ok. Now I'm better. Where do I start? I was shocked, aghast, and amazed (and not in a good way) when, upon getting pregnant, I learned the US doesn't mandate paid maternity leave. I'd read my employer's personnel manual, and honestly when I read the words "up to 12 weeks of family leave" never did it cross my mind that this "family leave" was unpaid. Sure, some private employers offer paid leave (less than 3 percent), and two states have stepped in to do the same (California and New Jersey), but the federal government does not. And our country is one of four - yes four - in the entire WORLD that doesn't.

What is wrong with that picture? So, so much.

But getting back to the article - it lays out the current picture in Sweden. 85 percent of Swedish fathers now take paternal leave. The country allots 13 months of paid leave to new parents - and currently sets aside two of those months just for dads. There will be a decision soon on doubling that.

How awesome. Seriously. Yet here in the U.S., not only do we not have paid leave for mothers, anyone suggesting something of the sort for fathers is laughed at. Or committed. Why?

I understand that everything isn't all roses and rainbows in Sweden. Yes, their taxes are 47 percent. Yes, the country is not as big or diverse as the U.S. Yes, they're socialists (though contrary to popular belief socialists are not communists and neither eat babies).

But in this aspect, they set a beautiful example that the rest of the world would be smart to follow. In this country, we're so far away from that goal it's astonishing.

So, all of this has been on my mind recently because I'm getting the itch again. My current job, with a total of three employees, doesn't follow FMLA. I may very well lose this job when I have another baby. Knowing that may happen, I can take steps now so that we're not in dire straights when the time comes, but woe to those newly-pregnant mothers AND fathers who can't.