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Opinion

Is Canada more pro-family than America?

Canadian families get generous parental leave, childcare subsidies, and guaranteed healthcare. Critics claim America can’t afford to follow suit, but it’s increasingly clear that it can’t afford not to.

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Such help is no help at all to the growing number of homeless and jobless families. And millions of families that try to keep a parent at home with the kids must do so without good health insurance. These families face the fear that one health crisis could leave them in financial ruin.  

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Maternity leave in America comes in the form of disability  insurance. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prevents employers from treating pregnancy or childbirth any differently from the way it treats other short-term disabilities. Thirty years ago, this legislation afforded critical employment protection for women. Today, it effectively devalues families by classifying the act of motherhood as something broken or sick. 

The cost of not investing in parents

What if the United States chose to follow Canada’s lead and funded families as a high national priority? Critics say we could never pull off something so radical because of sheer cost. What we don’t realize is that we are already paying. 

When we say we can’t afford to invest in new moms, dads, and their babies, we pay in other ways – with attachment disorders, compromised mental and physical health, and stressed and absent parents during the critical formative years when research and instinct tell us our children need us most. 

For all our fears about the cost of universal healthcare, the US already spends much more on healthcare than Canada does. Canadians seem to have found a way to focus on wellness, preventive care, and lifestyle changes. The US seems to operate in perpetual crisis mode, with high-cost, uncontrollable healthcare usage that has emergency rooms bursting.

A healthy country depends on healthy families. Yet rather than unite to push for needed reforms, Americans have politicized family values. The “pro-family” distinction has been hijacked in America by right-wing politics. We discuss gay marriage endlessly, but have yet to begin to talk seriously about practical ways to help the parents who raise our newest citizens, and who live and work in our communities.

It is true that American families are under attack, but for reasons that transcend the current, unhelpful conservative-liberal debate. In the past decade, as Canadians have doubled the length of standard parental leave, and secured Family Day for additional provinces, Americans have divided along partisan lines, watching lobbyists fight tooth and nail to see whose definition of family will sway federal policy. The debate has distracted us from the difference we might make if we just focused on those things that are good for all families.

Canada’s newest statutory holiday may not be enough for Americans to move to a colder climate. But it ought to be enough to give us pause. Canadians have implemented vastly different policies that benefit their families, not just on the third Monday of February, but every day, in the quality of life they lead. 

With a fresh focus on the importance of families, and a united commitment to strengthen the family unit, we Americans could see similar progress, if not a new national holiday. At the very least we can acknowledge, that yesterday, as they took time off from work to spend with their families, our northern neighbors got it right. 

Angela Kays-Burden is a licensed master social worker.

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