A couple of weeks ago I went to visit my friend in Örebro, Sweden. We don’t see each other very often and both of us are guilty of not responding to emails within the first 3,475 days of having received them but every time we meet up we pick up where we left off. No awkward silences. No grudges. Just good old chat. This is what friendships for life are all about.
Anyway… there I was, relaxing on the couch, watching the Swedish answer to Antiques Roadshow, sipping red bush tea and thinking about the recent conversations I had with Swedish mums while we (without much success) tried to prevent our merry offspring from consuming all the sand in the sandbox. The conversation went a bit like this:
- I tell them about how much Peanut’s nursery costs per month for 4 days a week – they gasp
- I tell them that after BlueBeretDad and I have spent about 30% of our hard earned salaries on nursery fees, and the remaining 70% on bills, rent and a monthly Blueberry Muffin treat we have enough left to pay for:
- about 55 packs of standard nappies
- about 55 boxes of Toddler formula milk
- 1.8 Alexander McQueen Studded Pump Shoe
- 250 Green and Black’s Maya Gold chocolate bars,or
- 416.6kg Asda organic carrots
…and the Swedish mums gasp again (Swedish is a very gasp-friendly language).
- I tell them that a lot of women cannot go back to work as their earnings would not even cover the childcare costs let alone any other essentials, like food or mortgage – they gasp
- I tell them that we could have sent Peanut to nursery at the age of 3 months (Swedish nurseries don’t accept such young babies) and had I had my first ever job that didn’t provide any additional maternity/paternity pay apart from the statutory support I would be facing a very tough choice or (more likely) Peanut would not be feeding their children with all that sand right now ..yeah yeah, they gasp (I begin to wonder whether I have somehow acquired a new superpower – The Ability to Make Swedish People Gasp as soon as I mention childcare in the UK – and I start cooking up a plan to take over that poor planet Earth). They gasp. I yawn.
When it is their turn to shock me they tell me that:
- both parents in Sweden are entitled to combined total of 16 months paid leave per child and I shed a tear
- first 13 months are paid at 80% of the parent-on-leave’s most recent income, rest is paid at flat daily rate and I cry
- public childcare is guaranteed to all parents with fees capped at 3% of parental income I sob.
- a lot of shift working parents have access to night time nurseries… Whoop! I know what you are thinking, as I was thinking the same! Until I found out that you need a confirmation from your employer that you actually work nights… Oh well, maybe one day! I blubber.
- parents have 480 days (240 each) of paid parental leave per child (pay depends on the earnings) that can be used to cover school holidays/sickness etc. until that child is 8 years old I bawl and stuff my face with sand
Now don’t get me wrong, it is not all IKEA and elks dancing on ice in the land of Sweden. The generous help with the childcare comes at a price – my sandbox friends tell me that there is a higher expectation on mothers to go back to work after having been mammalediga. Being a stay at home mum is not common and may be frowned upon or gasped about. But there is a choice and if as a parent, you want to continue working the Swedish government does not financially ruin you for having made that “lifestyle choice” to have children.
It also seems fairer that both men and women can take out a considerable amount of paid leave to care for their children, which means that it is not important what gender candidates one employs. It makes sense and it points Swedish society in the right direction on its way to equality. It is a shame that Britain is toddling way behind when it comes to taking care of its
Just before I went to bed I scratched Nova, a very friendly Labrador with the patience of a Blue Whale, on her very full belly. Nova had a great day in her dog nursery today, playing and making new furry friends. For those of you raising you eyebrows, ready to gasp, it is a legal requirement in Sweden to provide care for your dog if it is on its own for longer than 6 hours at a time.
On the way back from the sandbox I asked my dear friend how much Nova’s nursery cost. It turned out to be about a third of what we pay for Peanut’s nursery.
They say it is good for a child to grow up surrounded by pets…