This is the first in a series of posts outlining the general structure of life in Sweden for a family.
You’ve probably heard or read about the amazing parental leave policy in Sweden and wondered if it’s true. It is. Maybe you also heard about the affordable universal daycare and wondered whether that’s true, too. It is. And while these two things are wonderful for families, they’re just the beginning of why having kids in Sweden is so amazing.
Clearly, the best thing about having a child in Sweden is that parents get 480 days of paid parental leave (called föräldrarledighet, quite a mouthful!) for each child – to use before the child turns eight! The leave can be split between parents however they prefer, with the one rule that each parent has ninety days that they have to use or lose (ie, they cannot pass them to the other parent). Families are able to spend the earliest months and years of a child’s life developing a deep bond and establishing a rhythm as a new (or growing) family.
From our experience, it seems like most families split the leave approximately as such: mom takes the first year off from work to be home with the baby, then dad takes around six months to be home with the baby before he/she starts at dagis, the state-subsidized daycare/preschool, at around age 1.5. Families will often save around 1-3 months of leave to be used throughout childhood. When we moved to Sweden in 2014, we were shocked to learn that we could receive the full allotment of parental leave days for August, who was born 1.5 years earlier in another country!
Okay, but what is there to do while you’re at home with the baby? you might be wondering. Here, again, Sweden has it figured out. When a pregnant woman enrolls at a prenatal care clinic (another mouthful, mödravårdscentralen), she has the option to join a mammagrupp or föräldragrupp, a group of other pregnant moms or couples due around the same time (who usually live in the same neighborhood). The group meets weekly for classes on basic baby care and adjusting to life as a new mother and family. They will often meet outside of the class to take walks and fika together. Many woman I know whose children are nearing their teens still meet regularly with the other mothers they met from their mama group. From the moment of welcoming a new baby, a woman is nestled in a community.
I never had the chance to participate in a mom group, but I’ve taken advantage of the other great gathering space for new parents, öppna förskola, or open preschool. Open preschool is essentially preschool, but the parents have to stick around. Every town has at least one, and places like Stockholm have dozens scattered around the city. Parents are welcome to come with their children to socialize, sing, have some coffee and a snack, kvetch about baby sleep, food, and poop, and enjoy being out of the house. Some open preschools meet weekly and some meet every day. It’s generally a wonderful place for parents to meet other parents, babies to meet other babies, and for everyone to enjoy new toys and a change of scenery.
When it’s time for both parents to go back to work, children start at dagis, or preschool. Preschool starts around 1.5 years (we know some families who began closer to one year, but they are more the exception than the rule) and continues until the year the child turns six. We pay just over $100 per month per child for high-quality, full-time care for the kids. All children in Sweden have the right to attend dagis, which is generally high-quality and usually close to home, though parents can also choose to send their kids to a home-based daycare.
One of the greatest things about child care in Sweden is that kids tend to spend most of their time outdoors, even if they don’t go to a forest preschool. There’s a wide array of cold- and wet-weather clothing available here that makes it possible to play outside safely and comfortably year-round. The yard at our preschool is small, so many days the kids are taken either to a nearby playground or into the forest. It’s really amazing to see August enter what we call “forest mode”, when he frequently goes off trail to explore bugs, rocks, edible berries, and snails — oh, the snails!
There are other ways that Sweden makes it great to have kids: a monthly child stipend that offsets the already-low cost of preschool; free public transportation on buses for anyone pushing a stroller (and most public transportation is incredibly easy to navigate with a stroller); oh, and free health and dental care for children until they turn eighteen.
We count ourselves very lucky to have the opportunity to live here as a young family. What do you love about raising children where you are? Have you ever thought about raising a family abroad? I’d love to hear!
All photos by me, except the photo of me. That’s by my husband. =)