Elizabeth Entenman
January 24, 2018 6:41 am
Nadezhda1906 / Getty Images

The more we think about it, the more we’d like to live in Norway. In March of 2017, it was rated the happiest country in the world. (Meanwhile, the U.S. placed 14th, and America’s happiness score has declined by five percent over the past decade.) The views in Norway are gorgeous, the cheese is the best in the world, and there’s a strong sense of community and supporting the common good. Another reason Norway is so happy? The parental leave policies.

Take, for example, Simon and Julie Irgens, a couple living in Norway. After welcoming their first child, they both took several months of parental leave so they could stay at home with their new baby. Yep — businesses in Norway are incredibly flexible about both maternity leave and paternity leave. The Irgens did the same thing when their second child was born. All in all, they estimate that they’ve taken three years of paid leave to spend with their newborns. Yes, you read that correctly: three years of paid leave.

“Having that time with the kids from the start has been extremely important to me. To all of us,” Simon told Huffington Post. “It gave me a chance to bond with them from the beginning; it made us more equal as parents from an early stage in their life.”

Unfortunately, for most people in the U.S., maternity leave isn’t nearly as flexible.

Neither is paternity leave, if it’s an option at all. The days, weeks, and months (and years!) after giving birth or welcoming a new baby are crucial bonding periods. Plus, women need time to recover.

But despite how important it is, the U.S. is one of the few countries that doesn’t require businesses to offer paid maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates that mothers of newborn or newly adopted children receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave. But for many, taking that much unpaid time off isn’t always an option.

In Norway, the family benefits don’t stop at parental leave.

Now, Simon and Julie’s children are toddlers. But their jobs still afford them the flexibility to spend time with their children that most U.S. jobs don’t.

Maybe the U.S. needs to take some notes from Norway. Life over there sounds pretty great right about now.

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