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The Reality of Parenting in Sweden Will Make You Rethink How We Raise Kids

by Claire Litton Cohn Oct 3, 2016

You get 480 days of paid parental leave.

Known for having the best parental leave policies in the world, Sweden pays 80% of your salary for 390 of those days, with the remaining days paid at a flat rate. 90 days are assigned entirely to the father, and if he doesn’t take them, they are lost. The Swedish government also provides a “gender equality bonus” if the parental leave is split evenly between both parents.

This leave can be claimed at any time until the child turns eight, and also applies to people who are unemployed when they have a child. If parents have multiple children, they can collect leaves from all of them, which is why some Swedes go on vacations with their families that last for months… Aside from the generous vacation time policies in Sweden, they can tack on a couple of parental leave weeks whenever they feel like it.

You can reduce your regular working hours by 25%.

Swedes have a legal right to work at only 75% of their previous job hours until their child turns eight. If you’re feeling overwhelmed after going back to work and want to spend more time at home, you can, and your employer can’t say a thing about it.

There are federally-funded drop-in play centers (preschools) everywhere.

Everyone enjoying their vast amounts of time at home has to find something to do with their babies and toddlers… Enter the “öppna förskola” or “open preschool”. Little drop-in play centers scattered around every city (as well as private ones sponsored by churches, the Salvation Army, or language-learning groups) offer coffee and tea for the parents, and rooms full of toys, games, and other fun stuff for tiny people to do. There are often sing-alongs or music sessions, arts and crafts activities, indoor gym equipment, and the chance to talk to other adults while watching your kid smack another kid in the face. They also provide walks and outings to nearby parks and playgrounds.

There are dads EVERYWHERE.

Dads wearing their babies in woven wraps, dads spooning yogurt into tiny faces at the playground, and picking up their kids after school. There are changing tables in the men’s rooms and nobody thinks twice if a man has to miss work to take his child to a doctor’s appointment. If this doesn’t seem surprising to you, you probably grew up in Sweden.

Swedes LOVE pick and mix candy, which can be hard when you have a toddler.

For a nation of generally fit, outdoorsy people, there is bulk candy (“lösgodis”) available everywhere you turn: the supermarket, corner stores, it wouldn’t surprise me to find it in bars. Swedish families enjoy “lördagsgodis”, or “Saturday candy” — every Saturday, they take a bucket and shovel (really!) to the giant candy wall and load up on every tooth-destroying treat their hearts’ desire. These walls of tantalizing gummy bears and salty licorice treats can make dragging a protesting child through a supermarket almost impossible since they’re usually either right in the front of small stores or right by the checkouts in supermarkets. Damn you, Sweden, and your tasty marshmallow puffy squares!

Nobody cares what the weather is like.

Contrary to the United States, where it seems like parents get reported to social services for letting their child play outside at all, the Swedish motto seems to be “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” It’s been pouring down rain and I’ve taken my kid to the park… and she hasn’t been the only kid there. Throw your baby into the rubberized rain pants and coats that everyone seems to own, and bring an umbrella for yourself. You may have heard of the Nordic habit of letting babies take naps outside in their stroller in the winter, too; bundled up babies parked outside coffeeshops are a common sight, and nobody thinks twice unless they haven’t been tucked in properly. There are also preschools that stay outside all day (“uteforskolar”), even in the winter. This is a nature-loving country.

The government pays your salary if you need to stay home because your child is sick.

Called VAB-ing (short for Vård Av Barn, which translates to “care of child”), people sometimes joke that February should be called “VABruary” because there are so many colds circulating in the dead of winter. You get VAB until the child is 12 years old, and the money is deposited directly into your bank account.

Fika, fika, fika.

Everybody has fika, which is a snack break around 10am. Parent groups meet for fika (coffee and cinnamon or cardamom rolls, usually), kids have fika. The kitchen with all the tables in it at my one regular öppna förskola is called “the Fika Room”. Swedish children learn to sit at a table or on a bench and eat their snack, then resume play; daycares provide fika (usually sliced apples and other healthy snacks, from what I can see) whether they’re outdoors in a park or sitting inside. It’s nice to have a designated snack period in every day where you’re actually frowned upon if you DON’T eat a pastry.

Childhood foods can be a little different.

I remember stumbling across a forum post somewhere asking Swedes what their favorite childhood snack was; after listings like “fried blood pudding” and “caviar from a tube on crispbread”, I realized that Swedish kids have different palates. It’s pretty common for children to just eat regular food from a very young age; the only kids I see eating “snack foods” are quite young babies. It’s a lot more common to see kids eating fruit, or leftover couscous, than it is to see specialty baby products. But everybody loves pankakor, the thin, sweet pancakes that Australians call “pikelets”.

Mysig reigns supreme.

Mysig” means “cozy”, and there is nothing enjoyed by Swedes so much as being cozy. Get out your candles and pajamas, snuggle under a blanket, and eat some candy. Especially on Fridays, there’s nothing better than chilling out at home with your loved ones.

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