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by Ashley Weeks Cart

I began my morning watching this TED talk, “The US needs paid family leave – for the sake of its future,” and I urge you too to watch it and pass along.

As I contemplate my family’s upcoming parental leave, I recognize that I am one of those 12% of families in this country that have the luxury of paid leave. But it shouldn’t be a luxury. I shouldn’t feel lucky that my husband and I get paid time off from work to heal and bond and nurture postpartum. In fact, though I recognize that by US standards my four months of paid leave, and my husband’s four months of leave (2 months paid, 2 months unpaid) are unbelievably generous, I am still critical of how limited this time is during such a fleeting yet crucial stage in a person’s life (mother, baby and partner alike). An investment and commitment to breastfeeding alone is enough to warrant a minimum of 6 months paid leave for all mothers given that solid food isn’t introduced until that time.

One of my dearest friends welcomed her first child into the world last month, and because she lives in Stockholm, she and her partner each receive 285 days of fully paid leave from work to be used however, and in whatever arrangement, they deem best for their family and their careers over the course of the baby’s first five years of life. Talk about empowering families and providing a work/life balance! And once they return to work, their child will have fully subsidized (read: free) childcare, so economics does not have to be the primary driver of their family’s decision-making.

As conveyed in this talk, the US is one of only 9 nations (all the rest of which are countries with fewer than 8 million people, as compared to the US’s 320 million) that do not offer paid family leave. If the rest of the world can figure out how to support new families, we sure as hell better be able to come up with a reasonable solution for our country.

It is long since time for the most powerful country on Earth to offer national paid leave to the people doing the work of the future of this country and to the babies who represent that future. Childbirth is a public good. This leave should be state-subsidized. It should have no exceptions for small businesses, length of employment or entrepreneurs. It should be able to be shared between partners.