Sweden is often praised and is proud of its family friendly policies. Parents receive 480 days parental leave per child and 60 of them can only be taken by the father. Use it or lose it. These days can be claimed as part days or whole days until your child turns 8 years old. It’s generous, it’s flexible and personally I think it’s great. A father should spend time with his Children.
Sweden also has heavily subsidised child-care, pre-school or kindergartens (förskola) are, at least in comparison to the UK, ludicrously cheap. Schools also run before & after-school programmes (fritids), parks and playgrounds are everywhere and generally well done and local government run summer camps and activities. Life seems good for children in Sweden. It all seems very benign and indeed family friendly.
However that depends, quite a lot, on what you mean by ‘family friendly.’ More accurately it is work friendly so that both parents can get on with their careers without children proving to be too much of an embuggerance. Sweden is expensive, lifestyles generally require two incomes to sustain it. In fact many of these policies seen from another angle seem designed so that parents spend as little time with their children as possible.
It is quite normal for a child of 18 months to be in a förskola for 40 hours a week and then will continue in förskola or school until the age of 19. Swedes believe in well-run nursery schools for bringing up children.
The maths reveal the problem.
There are 168 hours each week. Most children are asleep for somewhere between 70-84 hours at night. Leaving around 84-98 waking hours. Most Swedish children are then with an institution for around 40 of those and watching TV for another 14-20 hours.
So who raises children in Sweden? It would certainly appear to be a shared enterprise between the state, the parents and the television. Of course Sweden is not unique in that, this is common to many western societies. It’s just not necessarily ‘family’ friendly.
As Laura Schlesinger once asked on US television, “Who in the room would prefer to have been raised in a daycare rather than by a mother at home?” There were no takers – the room fell silent.
Photo by Niklas Hellerstedt