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6 Ways Raising Children In Canada Is Much Different Than America

As much as it often feels like Canadians get the short end of the stick compared to our American counterparts (the winters are brutal, ordering anything online costs way more thanks to international shipping costs, and, oh, did I mention the winters are brutal?), the truth is that there are a lot of aspects about living in Canada that are pretty great. Especially when it comes to raising children.

Even though the United States might be the star of the North American show, Canada is kind of like its laid-back, friendly, and and more socially-inclusive cousin. Sure, we get made fun of for saying "sorry" all the time and for being super polite, but there are a lot worse reputations to have than that of being nice, right? I'll admit that sometimes I'll find myself daydreaming of relocating to live in the Florida sunshine, in New York City, or some quaint, small American town like the ones we all grew up seeing on TV and in movies. But I think of these 6 ways raising children is better in Canada, and I'm reminded I don't actually want to ever leave.

(Plus: we have poutine. Enough said.)

Giving Birth Won't Cost You A Thing

As a Canadian mom with two children, it honestly seems totally bizarre when I hear American friends talking about paying off the hospital bills they incurred while giving birth. In Canada, hospital costs are covered by the government as part of our universal healthcare system, so unless I needed an ambulance to get to the hospital to give birth (which, here in Ontario, would have cost $45), or if I specifically wanted a private hospital room (which I did, but the insurance through my husband’s employer covered it, so I never got a bill and have no idea how much it would have cost), then there’d be no reason to think about any of the costs associated to giving birth.

This aspect of life as a Canadian turned out to be even more important for my husband and I when our twins were born prematurely at 25 weeks, and then spent almost four months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit receiving round-the-clock medical care. During that time, my daughter also had two brain surgeries, and even after they were discharged, there were plenty of medical appointments to keep up with. I can barely even estimate what the financial implications of all of that would have been, but Andrea, a fellow preemie mom whose son Jax was born at 23 weeks gestation, knows exactly how much it cost:

We are lucky enough to live in Minnesota, which is a very progressive state in terms of health and human services. Because of Jax's low birth weight, he qualified for social security and medical assistance while he was in the NICU. We also have private insurance through [my husband's] job that we pay around $300/month for. It means we haven't had to pay much of Jax's almost-$2 million medical bill, but I know that many of parents in other states are not so lucky. Without insurance, I have no idea how we would have done it. We would have been bankrupt and would have had to move, most definitely.

Moms Get A Year Of Maternity Leave

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Moms in Canada can claim up to 15 weeks of maternity benefits, eight of which can be claimed before they are expected to give birth, according to Service Canada. This means that pregnant women (either biological mothers or surrogates) who cannot work due to their pregnancies are accommodated. After the mother gives birth (or after she becomes a mother through adoption), she is then entitled to another 35 weeks of general parental leave, which she can choose to share with her partner.

In Quebec, parental leave is even better: it includes dedicated time off for fathers and partners, according to CBC News. Unlike the rest of the country's shared 35 week setup, paternity leave in Quebec entitles dads and partners to five weeks of paid leave on top of what is already available to those taking maternity leave. Currently, the government is considering adopted the dedicated paternity leave plan throughout the country, as well as extending the length of parental leave to 18 months.

This contrasts pretty sharply to parental leave in the United States, which, according to the United Nations International Labour Organization, is the only developed country not to provide a guaranteed paid leave to parents. Currently, the Family And Medical Leave Act offers parents up to 12 weeks of leave following the birth of a child, but it is unpaid, and according to Forbes, more than 40 percent of Americans don’t actually qualify for it (which is not even including the number of parents who do qualify, but can’t afford to take an unpaid leave).

Canadian mom Andrea, 30, who has just begun her maternity leave with her fourth child, says the idea having such a short amount of time off from work after giving birth is almost unfathomable.“Twelve weeks just wouldn't be enough time,” she says. “You spend six weeks of that recovering, and then you only have six weeks to nurture your little one. I couldn't imagine having to put my 3 month old into daycare. As a nursing mom, that would make things even harder."

She adds,

I'm glad we have a year, but 18 months would be even better. In that case, I would still take one year off, and then [my husband] could take the rest, because dads need to have that long term bonding time as well. Plus, after 18 months at home, children would be eligible for toddler daycare programs instead of infant programs, which would be much more affordable for most parents.

We Have Less Gun Violence (And It’s Safer In General)

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Canadians, on the whole, are much more in favor of gun regulation that our neighbors to the south. Our gun laws are more complex and restrictive, and involve background checks and mandatory waiting periods. Unlike Americans, we do not have a constitutional right to bear arms, and we have lower numbers of firearm ownership — and overall we are less likely to die because of guns than in the United States. According to the Washington Post, the rate of gun-related homicides in Canada was approximately one in 215,000 people, versus in America, where it was one in 28,000 in 2011.

Of course, Canada isn’t immune to gun violence, but in a year where there have been 179 mass shootings in the United States, according to not-for-profit organization Gun Violence Archive, Canada has had... one. The shooting occurred in January in La Loche, Saskatchewan, a remote northern town, when a 17-year-old boy killed four people at the La Loche Community School, according to The Globe & Mail.

Mass shootings aside, we also have fewer murders (1.45 per 100,000 people in 2014, according to Statistics Canada, versus 4.5 in the U.S., according to the FBI), fewer people die from traffic accidents (5.2 per 100,000 people in 2014, according to Transport Canada, versus 10.2 in the U.S., according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) , and we also have a lower rate of robberies (59 per 100,000 people in 2014 according to Statistics Canada, versus 102.2 per 100,000 in the U.S. according to the FBI) .

We're Healthier

Given that Canadians have universal healthcare paid for by the government, it probably isn’t entirely surprising that studies have shown that we live healthier lives overall compared to our American counterparts. According to the OECD Better Life Index, Canadians have a longer life expectancy — 82 years in Canada versus 79 years in the United States — and research findings by David Feeny of Kaiser Permanente Northwest's Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon have shown that Canadians experience roughly 2.7 more years of "perfect health" than Americans do. We also have lower infant mortality rates, at 4.59 per every 1,000 live births, compared to 5.67 in the United States, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Canadian kids are also (relatively) healthier, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Canadian children and adolescents have lower rates of obesity than their American counterparts — specifically around 13 percent in Canada and 17.5 percent in the U.S. (though experts warn that both countries need to work harder to lower those numbers).

Our Public School System Is Strong

One of the things I always notice on American real estate shows is the regular discussion about whether or not a prospective house is in a "good" school district. In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, proximity to good schools is "one of the most influential" aspects that affect whether or not a buyer decides to purchase a particular home. And homebuyers are paying for it too: according to Realtor magazine, a house in a good school district cost $50 more per square foot on average, leaving many parents deciding between shelling out for a more expensive house near a good school, or staying put and paying for private school. But, as a Canadian mom, I find that concept kind of baffling. My own kids will be starting kindergarten this fall, but I couldn't tell you if the public school they are going to is "good" or "bad." Mostly because, on the whole, our public school system is more or less the same wherever you live — that is, pretty high quality.

Canada is consistently ranked fairly high on global assessments of education quality, thanks to a few important factors that set the Canadian system apart from that of the U.S. Our public school teachers are highly-trained, well paid, and have good job security, according to a report by the Center on International Education Benchmarking. There is consistency among Canadian school districts when it comes to what is taught and how, and there are smaller variations in funding differences between districts, with more spending allocated to higher-needs areas (one of the reasons, in other words, that there doesn't appear to be such a great disparity between "good" and "bad" schools).

Ashlee, 33, an elementary school teacher in Ontario tells Romper,

I personally feel very fortunate to have a career in teaching — it's a respected profession here in Canada. We're very well educated. It takes a minimum of six years now to get a teaching degree and probably another eight-10 years to get a permanent job. Even then, teachers are constantly taking additional qualifications to better themselves. It's also a very secure job, and I have a good healthcare plan and a good pension.
You can definitely see differences between the needs of schools in different areas that would make some seem better than others, but those higher needs schools are allotted greater funding and support. My understanding is that in America, funding goes to schools where test scores are the highest, which seems counterproductive to me.

As for the the public vs. private debate, eighth grade teacher Maria, 32, believes that public education in Canada has a number of advantages:

A lot of Canadian parents are under the impression that private schools are better than public schools, but that really isn't true. Public schools have to be accountable to the school board and the Ministry, and we have audits to ensure that the same high standard of education is being met everywhere — that, no matter where you live, your child will receive the same quality of education, will learn the same thing, and will have the same kind of resources.
But private schools are businesses first, and teachers and principals are accountable only to parents — in some cases, school administrators don't even have backgrounds in education. As public school teachers, we care about making sure all students have the same opportunities, not just the ones whose parents can afford to pay for them.

We're Happier

Trying to quantify the happiness of an entire country is hugely subjective, but hey, on the whole, it sounds like we're doing something right. According to the 2015 World Happiness Report based on Gallup Poll data, Canada ranks fifth out of over 150 countries for happiness and well-being. According to CBC News, the report looked at factors like income, health, social connectedness, trust in government, and even how often people donate to charity. Canada was bested by the usual "happy country" suspects — Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, and Norway — but came up a fair way ahead of the United States, who rang in at #10 on the list.

One factor that certainly isn't hurting our collective Canadian happiness? Our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who, as a proud dad, husband, and self-proclaimed feminist has ushered in a new style of Canadian politics. So far in his term, the super-relatable PM has made a point of forming our country's first-ever gender-balanced cabinet (answering, "because it's 2015," when asked about why he did it during a press conference), led the charge to welcome more than 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada, and finally launched the first stage of a much-needed inquiry into the murdered and missing indigenous women who had been ignored by our previous government for years. Not to mention, on the day after he was overwhelmingly elected into office, he showed up unannounced at a Montreal subway station to shake hands and take selfies with his constituents. Because, you know, why not?

Of course, no country is perfect (not even Denmark!), and surely not everyone will agree that life in Canada is so much better. Ultimately, it's hard to really compare what's better and worse when it comes to raising kids, because every family will have different needs. But overall, living in a country with a strong universal healthcare system and paid parental leave makes some of the challenges of parenthood easier. And then, there's the poutine. Always the poutine.