International Maternity Leave Policies
Almost five years ago my husband and I honeymooned in Sardinia (Sardegna) Italy. We picked the location because we wanted a place where we could sport climb and relax on the beach, plus I was excited to see a part of Italy I hadn’t seen before. While we were there, we were excited to see a German couple with two young children – one still in an infant carrier and one was about three. The couple was climbing a route while their children played in the sand. It was such an inspiration to us that we decided that our love of adventure could certainly accomodate children and that there was no need to wait to start our family. We were pregnant within the month. Two kids later I can see that we had skipped some vital researching and had simplified things a bit. . .we saw what we wanted to see.
Fast forward 4 years to last May, when we took our young children on a two week trip out west. While spending the week at Bishop, we ran into a number of families – all of them German – traveling on extended trips with their very young (less than one year old) child/children. I wondered, are Americans just less likely to have kids if they are climbers? Or are they less likely to travel with kids to outdoor/climbing destinations than their German counterparts? Are Americans more likely to travel without kids rather than take them along? I don’t know the answer to any of that but I do have one explanation for the difference.
I spoke with the couples we met and quickly realized that they were all on some extended family maternity/paternity vacations. . .traveling for months in the US because they had the paid time from government family leave. See chart for a summary of maternity leave (and then click to see the same chart for paternity leave) around the world (international maternity leave policies). I have not done this research myself so I hope you’ll forgive me any inaccuracies. I think the charts are simplified, as I know that some countries allow the maternity leave to be taken by either the mother or the father, and/or split so that both parents take some of the time. Either way, you can see that the United States is terribly far behind in offering paid parental leave. This policy difference certainly has an impact on the ability of American parents to take extended vacations with children in comparison with their counterparts in other countries. Here’s the article and report from February 2011 by the Human Rights Watch.
While traveling to climbing areas around the country, I often hear people asking where are all of the American families? In fact, I’ve said it myself. Well the answer is that traveling with kids for any extended time is a luxury that most can’t afford. Those families that do travel with kids usually do so via weekend stints within driving distance or once-a-year trips that last a week or so. Those trips usually entail camping and forgoing modern conveniences to make it a more acceptable expense. As a family, my husband and I are willing to make that sacrifice – and we meet people here and there willing to do the same. Still, it seems like even those of us who “rough” it are able to do so because of the luxury of a steady job, a good income, good vacation benefits and reliable health insurance. I wonder (and would love to hear from others) do other people (some of those non-parents living a more “adventurous” lifestyle) sacrifice having kids because their lifestyle doesn’t provide healthcare and/or paid leave? People choose not to have kids for many reasons – I’m just wondering if this is one of them.