Why Parents Need the Next President to Look at Europe’s Policies (OPINION)

Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Sharon Lerner

President Obama can’t say anything nice about Europe. If he makes any reference to the continent or their family-friendly policies he’s a socialist–or, as Romney put it back in January, someone who “wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society.”

Romney’s take has been not just that Obama’s a Europe-lover who cares about the needy (read: a pansy), but that any association with the continental way of doing things necessarily involves a dissing of our own. Thus his cynical applause line: “This President takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe, we look to the cities and small towns of America.”

Now, through a recently released recording that was, unbeknownst to him, made at a Republican fundraiser, Romney explains that 47 percent of America is dependent on these European-style entitlements– things like health care– and that his “job is not to worry about those people.”

Of course it’s not true that people who rely on government are pathetic, lazy shlubs–or, for that matter, that they’re in the minority. Even Romney, who is among the lucky few who can probably afford medical care whatever calamity befalls him, needs someone to build those roads he drives his Cadillac over.

Still, the potential vulnerability for further small-minded attack along the America-hating pansy lines is probably why Obama and the Democrat strategists don’t draw more attention to Europe’s vastly superior treatment of families.

There’s no reason the rest of us should let this freedom fries-style jingoism intimidate us, though. Why should we ignore countries (with a collective population of 733 million people) that have done far more to help parents spend time with their kids than we have?

This is election season. We shouldn’t be bullied into some dumbed-down dialogue over who’s got the bigger flag pin. It’s the time to interrogate our potential leaders about how they can make our lives better. It’s the time to talk about the land just across the sea where families have it way better: Europe. (Europe! Europe! Europe! Just typing it feels good.)

Take, for instance, the laws that protect European parents from getting fired for having a sick kid or taking care of their own medical problems. There’s no such protection for American parents, of course.

Then there’s the fact that part-time workers in Europe have pro-rated benefits and pay, not to mention health insurance, while American parents who want or need to work part-time often wind up in low-paying jobs with no benefits– if they can stay employed at all.

But perhaps the most infuriating contrast is on paid leave. In Europe, most new parents get at least six months of paid time off from work and, in several European countries, they get more than three years.

Because European countries have been providing paid leave for decades, we now know that this policy doesn’t just help parents, it translates into less sickness and death among babies. Two studies, one published in the Economic Journal in 2005 and another five years earlier, examined the steady climb in the amount of paid leave in 16 European countries, starting in 1969. By charting death rates against those historical changes, while controlling for potentially confounding factors, the authors were able to attribute a 20 percent dip in infant deaths to a 10-week extension in paid leave.

The truth is it’s not just Europe that treats its families way better, but much of the rest of the world. At least 145 countries have paid sick time laws. And the U.S. is one of only three countries that don’t provide paid maternity leave. Every other nation, including the People’s Republic of Congo, the very poorest in the world–provide paid leave.

Yet, the GOP, which has still somehow held onto its image as the “family values” party in some circles, shuns discussion of such humane and literally life-saving policies. And, here in the U.S., we still muddle along with a quarter of working mothers back at work within eight weeks of giving birth and one in ten–more than half a million women each year!– back in four weeks or less.

If Romney’s blindered vision plays with his wealthy donors and, perhaps, in the heartland, it doesn’t work as well on the global stage. Indeed, if Romney hates Europe, the feeling is mutual. And there’s plenty of reason to fear how he’ll be received in the rest of the world, too.

But it’s families here who should be the most concerned. To have children is to need things– unexpected time off, health care, a decent stretch to recover from birth and bond with a baby.

Yet, so far, Romney’s family policy seems to be simply that he has one (a family, that is). Purportedly he’s nice to them. Plus, as my fellow blogger points out, Ann Romney makes good pancakes.

But that does not equal a plan to improve the lot of American parents, who want supports like paid leave not because they’re lazy, dependent shlubs, but rather because they’re caring humans who need to work and would like to spend a little time with their children.

Read more opinions from Sharon Lerner

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  1. by Jen

    On September 19, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    This is a disgusting article. If you love Europe, move there. Did you see how France wants to tax their citizens 75 % ? What is the incentive to work of the government takes (almost) all. Besides countries like Mexico that have socialist services like health care further divide the country. There are rich and there are poor, very little middle class. As we can see on the news, their poor is fleeing Mexico for true opportunities here, A dependent society is a dead society and you and your like will kill the opportunist spirit of America. Please, move to Europe and enjoy heating your house 2 hours a day in January because it is so expensive! I lived there and returned to the land of warm showers!

  2. by reiko

    On September 20, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Actually, I found this article well researched and informative. I had no idea that the U.S. is one of only three countries in the entire world that does not offer paid maternity leave. I also didn’t know that 10 weeks of paid maternity leave saves infants’ lives. Thank you to the author for making an important family connection to what we might think of as just “politics.”

    Sometimes we forget that the whole reason to have community, society and country is for mutual support and benefit. If it was every man for himself, every man would be growing his own food, building his own buildings, educating his own children, making his own tools, fighting his own wars, etc. Society assumes that every person has something to offer and that we all benefit from making sure that children and families have education, health and other support they need to contribute to the greater good for all.

    I really appreciate these insightful articles. Keep them coming!

  3. by heather

    On September 20, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    really like what you have said your right about ever word you said. now adays we are to worried about how are we paying our household to how we are even paying for the gas that they keep making higher. keep these blogs coming cause i will be reading them

  4. by Cecile

    On September 21, 2012 at 11:45 am

    France want to tax 75% their super rich citizen. Those who are making more than $1.3Million/year, which is going to be less than 1% of the total population. wouldn’t you like your 1% to participate a bit more?
    Answering “move over there” to a person who dare to suggest it may be easier for parents in France is a simplistic answer to a very complex question. I have both experience and know for a fact it is easier in France. people have known many wars on their soil in Europe. They know it in their guts and solidarity has a different meaning. In the US people express their generosity through Churches and donations to divers charities. They want to give to what they deem worthy. neither is worth or better, but results are different. I worked for an big NGO for 10 years as a nurse, I know for a fact that depending on private donation can mean stopping your activities when money dries even if what you do is life saving. It’s not they way I want my country to be managed. I want to be able to have maternity leaves and guaranteed job back whether I’m rich or poor because this can change in my life time. As always Sharon, great piece:)

  5. by AidensMom

    On September 27, 2012 at 2:02 am

    So sorry you were asked to add your thoughts to these most important issues. So, in a nutshell, you can’t stand Romney no matter what and will put out untruths taken from questionable liberal websites to garner support from liberal ideologues like yourself.

    Our country is on a financial cliff, but you say,”It’s the time to interrogate our potential leaders about HOW THEY CAN MAKE OUR LIVES BETTER. It’s the TIME TO TALK ABOUT THE LAND just across the sea WHERE FAMILIES HAVE IT WAY BETTER: Europe. (Europe! Europe! Europe! Just typing it feels good.)

    I say it’s time for all Americans make their own lives better. You want the government to spend more money that we do not have to give you an easier life? Rome is burning and that’s what is foremost on your mind for this election?

    Go ahead to Europe, but first you might want to read up on how great living there has been in say, the last five years? You don’t realize you already live in the greatest country on the planet.

  6. by click here

    On December 3, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    I like this weblog very much, Its a really nice position to read and obtain info. “I ran the wrong kind of business, but I did it with integrity.” by Sydney Biddle Barrows.

  7. by automotive service and news

    On December 21, 2012 at 4:25 am

    Very interesting topic, thanks for posting.


    On January 5, 2013 at 12:20 am

    Dead indited articles, thank you for entropy. “Necessity is the mother of taking chances.” by Mark Twain.