Recently my family was traveling in Germany (by the way while traveling with a baby has its complications I have never felt so accommodated by airlines) and on a train trip we shared a car with a German woman and her two young children. We got to talking (I talked to many more people this trip then I normally do as my daughter is quite the social butterfly) and parental (focused much more on maternity) leave came up. I had ten weeks of maternity leave because of FMLA and while I am glad that FMLA is now a thing and I know I am lucky that I had enough sick and vacation time for my ten weeks of leave to be fully paid I also know that maternity in this country quite frankly sucks. Even with FMLA, which makes sure you have a job to come back to, but not everyone can afford to just not work for ten weeks if they don’t have the sick and vacation time to get them through it. When I told the German woman on the train how much time I was off after my daughter’s birth she looked fairly horrified. She brought up breastfeeding, which yes I was still doing when I went back to work (and for months after and pumping sucks). In Germany new moms get a year of leave (paid leave), which could be stretched to two years (where the mom would receive half her pay each year). A year, to heal and breastfeed and get to know your new baby (because sure they grew inside of you, but really they are their own person and you learn more about who they are each day) and get into your family rhythm before throwing work and daycare into the mix.
While I know our parental leave system is terrible (and their is the whole other issue of paternity leave, which should be a normal protected thing along with maternity leave) it always just seems like this is just the way it is and getting any sort of national, paid maternity leave just sounds too enormous a mountain to climb. But they I travel to these countries that have many similarities to ours, but can provide these benefits to families (and don’t even get me started on universal health care). We have groups that claim to be pro family, but never address any real issues that would make life easier and better for families. Better parental leave policies should not seem like a far fetched dream, but something we should actively be working towards.