Happy hump day people!
Firstly, thanks for your incredibly generous vibes after last week’s dipping-my-toe-in intro. T'was a real hoot getting your feedback and thankfully, the consensus is, keep going ;-)
This week, I’d like to delve into my newest role first - mamma land - and in this instalment, examine and rave a little about the Swedish society support for the family. You see, it's not just conceptual, it's real, and a role model system, globally. Once again, my lawyer friend, Sissi, broached this when I first moved to Stockholm. On the subject of having my own potential children she confidently shared, “this is the best country in the world to rear children, and you will most probably want to have them here”. Of course this triggered an immediate reaction in me, ‘No way! I can’t be apart from my family in Oz, after all, my mother has waited a lifetime for grandchildren, I’m the youngest of her 3 daughters and if I had a child on the other side of the world, it would be .. be.. well, I’d be killed!!” Ha. I’m eating my words now. Of course Daniel and I’s choice to stay in Sweden and have a family was not primarily because of the financial benefits(or to be away from my family!), and truth is, money is not a predominant motivator for us. Or the fact that Swedish society is conducive to baby-making ;-) It’s no secret that the ’Nordic model’, if we can call it that, is unique and publicly noted as one of the most generous in the world. I have established myself as a songwriter/artist/coach here in Stockholm, world-renowned for its extraordinary songwriting community, and it has taken some time to reap the benefits after the cost of relocation..so in some ways, I feel like I’m just getting started! Daniel’s new business is also thriving now, and it would take some effort to ‘start again’ in Australia, just as I have been doing in Sweden. Having said all this, there are some undeniable ‘pros’ to living in Sweden and rearing a family, and they are worth highlighting -
'Mamma pengar'- maternity leave
Any tax paying resident will receive 70% (ish) of their income in maternity leave. Parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave. Yes, 480 days!!!! Of those, 60 days are reserved for the dad. According to recent stats, dads took around 25% of the total parental leave, and that’s why you see so many dads pushing prams around during the day. This figure is amongst the highest in the world, and it follows from the liberal, homogenous society Swedes have created; where traditional men and women, or mummy and daddy roles are challenged, and families, and everyone’s roles in it, are important and celebrated. Speaking of, I occasionally and affectionately call my hubby a ‘half man half woman’. This is in fact meant as a huge compliment in modern day society. To be handy in every area(!), perhaps also known as metrosexual, is not only very practical, but in my opinion, very attractive. I’ll never forget when Daniel and I first moved in together, I came home one afternoon to find him… vacuuming. Unsolicited!!! Now I’m not saying I wouldn’t find an Aussie male vacuuming, and I can imagine all my daddy male friends do this often, but hey, in my experience, I haven’t actually SEEN it, where the woman doesn’t have to ask for it be done. I’m probably asking for a backlash here, but if it wasn’t true then why was i SO surprised?! Perhaps I’ve just dated very misogynistic men?! I take full responsibility for that.
With regards to their social services, it’s not all a bed of roses, and residents of Sweden pay a massive price for them. In so far as massive taxes, again, these are among the highest in the world. But there’s no denying it works, and for the main part, the Swedes trust their system and all its parts. You do get a lot of bank for your buck. How refreshing!
‘Dagis’ - baby/child day care
As compared with the U.K or Australia, It’s very affordable, because it’s heavily subsidised by the Swedish government. Although it’s difficult to compare direct figures with say, Australia, here’s the general vibe of what I found after I poked and asked around. Parents in Sweden spend about 5.7% of their income on babies aged between 0-2, and 3.6% between ages of 3 to school age. Compare this to figures from a recent Sydney Daily Telegraph article stating that the average Sydney mum returning to full-time work can expect to lose about two-thirds of her take home pay to day care. What the?! Obviously Sydney is our most expensive capital, but the average national cost is still $75 a day, that’s $375 a week, times that by 48 weeks(if you take 4 weeks off for holidays), that’s a grand total of $18,000 per annum. For the average Aussie, that’s about a third of their take home wage.
In Sweden, there is a very strong push to put your child into ‘dagis’ - 93% of children between 18 months and 5 years attend dagis, and most Swedes trust the high standard of care. So after your 16 months off work, you’re encouraged back into full time employment to contribute to society and your family, while trusting the system will take good care of your child. Whatever your personal stand is on this, (often influenced by what you can afford too), I find it an amazing piece of mind and safety net that the service is readily available and affordable to all, no one is disadvantaged due to class/income, and the ratio of carers to children is also very high.
Leo will start dagis when he’s just over one year of age, this October. At this stage, we’ve registered him in ‘part time’. I’m just getting my head around the notion of him being in full time, because where I come from, it’s not that common that your 1 year old is in day care so many hours per week. Obviously with my work, my hours are a little more flexible, so we’ll just see how we go, and how I feel, on that one..
Pram and boob friendly
By boob friendly, of course I mean, breast-feeding friendly. Perhaps breast-feeding in the middle of brunch with twelve people at the Grand Hotel will be somewhat frowned upon(controversial as it may be), but you can feel safe and secure that feeding your child is almost always, respected by all, as is getting around with your little one. I’ve lost count how many times people have stood out the way for me, or on the rare occasion there's no ramp, help me lift the pram up or down stairs. (I shamefully admit, in my pre-mamma years, I’ve not been so kind on the other end of the stick, and would get quietly annoyed at mums with prams who’d 'take over' supermarket aisles). Of course, the fact that I’m barely 5 foot and have a miniature Swedish viking half my height may have something to do with all the assistance i seem to attract. But, there’s almost always a ‘hiss’(elevator) or ramps of some description on every stair - steel, wood or concrete blanks so you can carefully wheel your ‘barnvagn’ up or down. Initially I was just frightened by these things. Of course I’ve never even see them in Oz, but I didn’t exactly have baby eyes for such things back then. When my sister and mum visited us four weeks after Leo was born, and we ventured out for the first time with Leo, we carried on so ridiculously, it is now laughable - the benefit of hindsight. You see, our nearest train station, just 3 minutes walk away, has no wheelchair ramp, only these two skinny, ‘scary', steep planks of wood to wheel your barnvagn up. Ugh. So together Gloria and I, on a rainy cold late-October day, wheeled little Leo up, but instead of tilting the big wheels down so the pram is still horizontal while traveling upwards, we pushed the pram up the wooden planks as little tiny 3.5 kg Leo progressively traveled down the bassinet, and by the time we reached the top of the platform, he was completely covered by the sleeping bag and blankets. AHHHHHHH! I burst into highly hysterical and hormonal tears and was virtually inconsolable for five minutes… quickly reaching for my baby to save him from potential suffocation. Sob sob sob!! “That’s it, I’m never going out again!!!” My sister and Mum teared up too, worried sick to the core how I was going to get around Stockholm, without a Swedish driver’s licence(yes, that’s the next project), negotiating the Swedish snow and cold. We eventually caught our breaths, Leo survived(he was totally oblivious), and staggered nervously onto the train. We were walking on egg shells all day with our little precious bundle, in case we dropped him or forgot something(of course everything bar the kitchen sink was in that damn Bugaboo pram bag).
That night I retold the said disaster to Daniel, and declared "that’s it, I can’t go out, how can I get the damn barnvagn up the ramp, no wonder these Swedish women are so powerful, they can wheel their buggies up and down those things!" He calmly replied, "don’t worry darling, I’m going to build you something you can take around with you so you can wheel it up.” Yeah, right. The next morning Gloria and Mum went for a stroll to the next station around ten minutes away in the other direction, the last stop on the train line. Much to their sisterly and motherly relief, there it was - a wheelchair ramp! They came pouncing through the front door like two gleeful deer(the kind we see around our hood), “Tan Tan, it’s going to be ok, there’s a proper wheelchair ramp at the other station! You’re freeeeee!” Again, I burst into tears, this time, exhilarated ones. Needless to say, Daniel never needed to build me his BS contraption to appease me and now, would you believe, I’m one of ‘those’ women, who can pull the barnvagn up the skinny, once scary planks of wood, with snow on, at the station just three minutes away from our home. In fact, now I can even conquer three times the length. Lesson - it always feels impossible, until it’s done ;-)
The not-so-perfect stuff
Of course there’s a few ‘cons’ to these seemingly all fair, all equal, liberal, Swedish objectives. The side-effect means then that standing out, airing honest feelings or concerns or having an individual voice different from the consensus, may mean you come across some particularly challenging road blocks, practically and emotionally. Of course any society can complain of this, but it's particularly so in Sweden, where a word like 'lagom', meaning just the right amount or in moderation, are said to actually describe the Swedish national psyche, one of consensus and equality. Speaking specifically in 'mamma land' then, for argument's sake, my personal small stature meant that I was not able to have a natural child birth(and an unusually small pelvis), so my ensuing C-section was almost an emergency one. If it were not for good ol’ Sissi, who warned me(and retold a story of another small girlfriend of hers and her horrible child birth experience), that because it’s all about ‘al natural’ in this society, combined with Swedish women being typically tall, and a hell of lot taller than women of southern European origin(me-very much in the minority!), c-sections are barely discussed ahead of time, unless of course you’re in labour for up teen hours and there’s no way that head is comin’ through. So as to avoid a possible emergency c-section, (after an impossibly long labour), I demanded a test weeks before I was due, on Sissi’s instruction, to check my pelvis size. There exists such a test, but in Sweden you almost have to insist on it! Sure enough, I was way too small. When this result finally came in, it was only nine days before my expectant date, so I was called in urgently to schedule the c-section for the very next day, to avoid possible early contractions. Now in Australia, I’ve been told that any obstetrician would have taken one look at me and concluded this much earlier, or at least, we would have explored all the options in the seemingly endless time during the pregnancy! Conversely, any time I bought it up with my mid-wife during those weeks, (who was always very nice) it almost felt taboo and the ‘wait and see’ approach was adopted. Thank goodness I listened to Sissi!I was awake and alert, with Daniel(a little more shaky), to experience the wonder and amazingness of our little lion's arrival. Lesson - integrating and being open to a new system/country/job doesn’t mean you should lose your voice - speak up, be you, wherever you are.
Well, this all feels like pandora’s box, in a good way..once you dive in, there’s more and more to discover and pull apart. But we have time! I’d love to hear from anyone who can relate out there, particularly in mummy world(and there’s certainly more personal feelings to explore and admit to!) or daddy world, or what the hell, any citizen of the world who wants to make a contribution, or just plain vent! I better quit now, while I’m behind, on my Swedish homework.. and Leo calls. Well, actually, now he’s yelling in go-gah talk. Translated: "Enough now mum, gimme ooooove!!” And so the balancing act continues.. what a lucky problem to have ;-)
Have a rockin’ week, whatever ‘world' you’re in.