THE BLOG
08/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

What Family Values? The Real Reason America Is Falling Behind the Rest of the World

I stumbled across a frightening little list this morning. It's a list of the only four countries in the world that don't offer guaranteed paid maternity leave for mothers (based on a Harvard/McGill University study of 173 countries). You might expect to see Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland on the list. But...the United States? Of America? As I so often find myself asking these days -- what's wrong with us?

While we in the U.S. do have the legal right to up to 12 weeks of unpaid "family leave" -- honestly, who can afford that? And the consequences go way beyond those 12 weeks. We know that women who don't have paid leave are less likely to breastfeed their infants. And we know that the first few weeks of breastfeeding are the most critical to a child's lifelong health.

Part of the dilemma is that we let ourselves get distracted from this critical issue. We allow misguided religious leaders and politicians to goad us into to fomenting and focusing almost exclusively on hot-button issues from abortion to gay marriage. Meanwhile, we leave women who do choose life to struggle, and their children to suffer.

We rail against the threats of socialism and higher taxes, and turn our cameras on the hot air parade of all the reasons why we can't have health care for all people. Meanwhile, other countries just quietly, efficiently, and democratically take care of all their people and wonder what our problem is.

Come on America! What happened to our pride, our sense of responsibility? We think we have to solve all the world's problems when we aren't even taking good care of ourselves. I think it's time for a new definition of family values in this country:

New Family Values: People should take the best care of each other, no matter what the cost, simply because it's the right, moral thing to do. Men and women of all races and sexual proclivities should be treated equally, with respect and nonviolence. Children should be nurtured, protected, and educated to care for others and the planet. The government should look out for its people and protect them, and require businesses to do the same. It's simple, really.

When will we learn?

For more from Maria Rodale, go to http://www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.