I’ll never regret living in Europe after giving birth. I got way better maternity leave and my American friends envied me. – DAVID RAUDALES

DAVID RAUDALES

Businessman, musician / former Full Stack Developer

DAVID RAUDALES UK

I’ll never regret living in Europe after giving birth. I got way better maternity leave and my American friends envied me.

Esther Strauss is based in North Macedonia.

Esther Strauss

Esther Strauss and her family moved to North Macedonia from the US. She says that she felt a lack of support when her baby was born in the US. In Europe, she was able to take more time off after giving birth. 

When my first child was born, I found myself faced with the harsh reality of no guaranteed maternity leave in the US.

Some states offer maternity or parental leave laws, but Texas doesn’t. And, while the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave, I wasn’t eligible for that. It was one of those non-negotiable parts of American work culture that I felt I had to accept. I only had four weeks of paid leave.

My family eventually made the decision to move to Europe — so with the arrival of my second and third sons, I was able to bask in the luxury of nine months of maternity leave. I even managed to extend my time off while keeping my job secure for nearly two years. 

Here are some differences that I found between my experiences of pregnancy and maternity leave in the US versus Europe — some of which were surprising:

Maternity leave and parenting in the US:

There’s pressure to start a family before age 30

As soon as you get married or anywhere close to 30, you’ll hear, “So when are you going to have a baby?” from family, friends, and colleagues. My community was no different.

I felt a lack of support after the baby arrived

When our son arrived after a grueling home water birth that lasted nearly two full days, I suddenly felt alone and adrift. The midwives packed up their birthing equipment, my family returned to their homes, and we were left alone to figure things out.

On the one hand, I remember these early days of our little family with nostalgia — and exhaustion. My husband’s family is in Europe, and we took advantage of his mother’s nursing experience and nine-hour time difference for advice at any hour of the day. She guided us through that first year from afar.

There was pressure to get back to work

My experience in the workforce was similar — plenty of excitement before the baby was born, but afterward the focus was “When will you return to the office?” and “It’s time to get back to business.” The time for consideration and adjustments for me and my child ended abruptly and unexpectedly.        

My employer allowed me to work remotely

I was making a good salary as an account executive, and when my employer agreed to let me work from home, this allowed me to prioritize nursing and bonding with my newborn.

My husband stayed home with our son

When my husband and I decided to start a family in the US, we made the decision for him to stay home with our son during this crucial time, rather than put our baby in daycare or hire a nanny.

Some jobs are harder to manage leave on than others

As an account executive, I found that sales positions are especially difficult to take family leave with because someone needs to take over your book of business while you are on leave. Once you come back, they often don’t want to give back the accounts they’ve been covering and earning the commission on.

But whether or not this happens depends on your relationship with your colleagues and how you’ve covered for them in the past. I was fortunate to have excellent colleagues whom I’d helped many times.

I had to return to work sooner than I wanted

I only had four weeks of paid leave, and my employer didn’t have to hold my job for more than six weeks. With financial pressures weighing our new family down, I reluctantly returned to work.

As a new mom, I’d barely established a nursing routine, and I was still struggling with sleep, anxiety, and the desire to hold and snuggle my newborn. I know I was luckier than most, but for me, four weeks wasn’t enough.

I wanted a longer leave  

As I watched my son experience those precious firsts — tasting different foods, chasing after our cats, and uttering adorable baby sounds — I couldn’t help but feel a deep yearning for more time with him. 

That longing led us to explore opportunities abroad, looking for businesses to invest in that would reduce our financial burden and give us more freedom to cherish these precious moments. It was when we were visiting Europe — just six weeks after our baby was born — that we started to formulate our move abroad.

Maternity leave and parenting in Europe:

People have more time for children and family life

We felt a definitive shift while in Europe visiting my husband’s family. Everyone was eager to actually spend time with us and our son. They were not too busy for babysitting or playing; they always had time. When we did make the move to Europe, things continued in much the same way. Spending time with our son was a constant priority. 

People understand the needs of the family in Europe, and it’s prioritized. European culture is more centered on family, and life runs at a slower pace. 

I felt more supported by colleagues in Europe

When I started working in Europe, I moved into a teaching position. There were days when I took my then three-year-old son to preschool and he refused to let me go. I took him to class for a while and the only reaction was one of adoration and support.

When we had our second son, I was able to leave work a month before my due date to focus on getting ready for the further expansion of our family. Colleagues frequently called to check up on me, as did my principal.

Teachers have unique issues when dealing with maternity leave

When I was working as a teacher in Europe, I noticed that although schools are accustomed to giving maternity leave, they need to also deal with a new hire who they then need to find a job for once the teacher on leave returns.

What usually happens is that teacher will be needed in another classroom because someone else will go on leave, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Right now at my former school, the gym teacher is teaching the music class until the music teacher returns from leave because they couldn’t find a suitable replacement for one semester only. But if there’s a standard of maternity leave throughout the country and company, it makes it much easier to find coverage for those nine or more months.

I got a longer leave — but it still was too short

After we made the move to Europe, I was able to enjoy a long maternity leave with my two younger sons, and I found even nine months isn’t enough time. Nine months is a developmental milestone when your child is starting to really get interesting and fun, crawling and trying to talk and getting into everything.

I was able to take additional time off after my leave ended plus had job security

The biggest difference with taking maternity leave from my job in Europe versus the US was that in Europe, I was able to extend my leave and still keep my job secure. After my second son was born in Europe, I continued to feel the support and understanding of those surrounding us. 

When my maternity leave ended and I asked the school to take another year off — this time without pay but with continued job security — they were 100% understanding.

I finally returned after 20 months and was warmly welcomed. I only needed to communicate with my principal, and they were willing to accommodate me in order to maintain our good working relationship.

The focus on family has been great for my relationships with my spouse and children

This big change has had an even bigger impact on my family and relationship with my spouse and our children. Living in a society that has prioritized family — from the earliest moments — has been the best decision I have ever made.

We have very open and clear lines of communication. Our oldest is now nearly 17, and he still calls me “mommy” and comes to me for everything he needs, from a broken heart to difficulties at school and big life decisions as he maps out his future.

The decision to live in Europe while our kids were young is one I’ll never regret

Although we have since returned to the States, it has reshaped our family’s narrative and allowed us to savor the joys of parenthood in a way I had once thought impossible in the United States. 

Those irreplaceable moments during my time in Europe created an unbreakable bond between me and my sons. My American friends envied the quality time I spent with my little ones during their most formative years. 

These two vastly different experiences shed light on the different values that these locations place on children and the family unit

I think those of us in the US can still do a better job of supporting families — and particularly making maternity leave more accessible.

If experienced surprising differences when relocating and would like to share your story, please contact Jenna Gyimesi at [email protected].

Read the original article on Business Insider