Since 2018 I have put my working life aside to devote my time in my new role as professional mother to my daughter (3) and son (1). Together, with my other half, we live in the beautiful countryside north of Stockholm, Sweden.
The Swedes have an interesting perspective on the way children are brought up, quite different from my childhood in England and Canada. I noticed this from the moment I returned from the hospital. Sweden’s legal system, healthcare and community care have all played a part in supporting our joyful transition to family life.
So how do these 3 elements make such a difference in Sweden?
Babies first days:
From the moment my children were born, they were identified with a personal number and named according to their gender and their mother’s surname. Until I registered them with the tax authorities, they were named Boy and Girl Cryer! It’s very common to meet nameless children as the country allows parents 3 months to pick out the perfect name.
During the first week of a baby’s life, the hospital takes responsibility for both baby and mother. Within this week they will ensure the baby has all its check-ups, including tests for hearing, rare illnesses and jaundice. Sweden takes great care of its mothers as well, actively advising with breastfeeding, checking if additional help is needed and making sure each mother is given both the physical and mental help needed to deal with postpartum issues.
By the end of the first week, you will have called and registered the child with a paediatrician to whom the support role will transfer after the first week. Generally, the first appointment with the paediatrician will take place at the 2-week mark, usually at the mother’s home, where the surroundings are most comfortable. For us, the benefit of having a home visit allowed the paediatrician to get to know us as parents, to make sure our babies were developing well, and also to review the safety of our home environment. This was a great time to raise all those important first-time parent questions. New parents receive tips about how to take care of the baby, are given recommendations for different parent groups and activities, and are helped to put together a schedule of future appointments for both mother and child.
Sweden is sincere in striving for equality, and though it may not be perfect, when it comes to parenting, both parents are expected to take part in staying at home to raise their family. Parents benefit from a generous 480 days parental leave which is divided equally between both parents. While days can be exchanged, each parent must use at least 120 days of the parental leave. In all my travels, I have never seen so many fathers out with strollers, and actively participating in dad groups – it’s a wonderful way for both parents to get to know their children.
Once parents start to work, the law provides for them to take 2 planned parental leaves a year (more if approved by the employer). If a child is sick, one of the parents can take a VAB
(Vård av Barn – Care of Child) day for which they will be paid to stay at home and care for their child (paid through the social insurance agency, Försäkringskassan). Parents will also receive child benefits which are split equally between each parent – this sum increases with each additional child.
Since mental health plays an important role in parenting, the paediatrician gives mothers and fathers the opportunity to meet other parents and children of the same age by creating parent support groups. These groups meet weekly or monthly and give you the opportunity to discuss your child’s developments as well as concerns, tips and tricks. It’s a great opportunity to find out about local activities (such as library groups, or baby swim clubs). As a result of these meetings you gain good connections with other parents which develop into long lasting friendships.
Being social is strongly encouraged for both parents and children. In most areas, there are drop in preschools which is a fantastic way for young children to learn to play together, and a great way to bond with other parents. These drop-in groups usually have a leader who establishes the routine for activities for each age group, including song time and story time.
Preschool and schooling:
The first year is an exciting time for both parent and child. Parents are thrown into this new role and learn how to adapt to their new life. Meanwhile, the child is busy absorbing all the faces, surroundings and experiences. At the age of 1, children are now eligible to start a new stage in life – preschool. Preschool is not mandatory, but is available for all children who are in need. In preschool they learn the understanding and compassion for others by playing with other children and learning how to share. Encouraging children to learn basic knowledge by choosing a curriculum based on children’s interests, but also challenging them through new discoveries and inspiration. The preschool should choose a curriculum that promotes equal rights, regardless of gender.
Although school costs are covered by the Swedish tax system, this is not the case for preschool. For the first 3 years of preschool, parents need to contribute a small sum which is based on the parent’s salary. Also, the more children you have, the lower the cost of preschool per child.
As preschool is voluntary, children are able to take leave as they please. However, once the child turns 6/7 and enters their school years, their attendance is compulsory. Schooling continues for the next 9 years with holidays 5 times a year. Parents have the right to choose which schools their child will attend, and the child has the right to be in a school in the area where they live. Home-schooling is not an option in Sweden.
School years are separated into 4 different stages: (förskoleklass) Preschool year, (lågstadiet) Elementary school years 1-3, (mellanstadiet) Middle school years 4-6, and (högstadiet) High school years 7-9. For children aged 6-13, they are eligible for out-of-school care both before and after school. This is a fantastic benefit for working parents who cannot leave their children home alone. After high school, teenagers are encouraged to continue their education at an upper high school called gymnasiet. This allows young students to develop work-related skills or to prepare them for further academic studies at university.
Overall, Sweden is a wonderful country for children to grow up in. My experience has been entirely positive since the day my first pregnancy test confirmed my entry into this
wonderful new life. I feel encouraged knowing that my children will be growing up in a country whose values are so supportive, ensuring great education and amazing care provision during their upbringing and future life.
Johanna Cryer works as an art director, photographer and influencer in Vallentuna near Stockholm. She was born in England, grew up in Vancouver on the west coast of Canada then moved to Sweden in 2015.