We’ve been living (temporarily) in my husband’s native Sweden. Here, as a stay at home mum I feel completely marginalised. Despite my desire to get to know the locals I’ve spent the last few months mixing entirely (other than my husband’s family and friends) with ex-pats as they’re the only ones likely to be home with kids and/or accept other people’s choice to be.
Swedes just don’t get the concept of stay at home parents. After the initial 12-18 months parental leave toddlers are almost without exception shipped off into state run nurseries. My son is 15 months and whenever I meet a Swede the first or second question is always ‘is he in nursery yet?’ When we explain that he’s at home with me and we intend it to be that way for at least the next few years people react very negatively. It’s almost like they think we’re denying our child something crucial to his development and are bad parents. They truly believe that being in nursery is best for the child. I know as an organisation you have had Jonas Himmelstrand speak so you’ll be well aware of the negative impact of this system on the psychological and emotional well being of children and parents.
The message I’d like to get across to policy makers is that the Swedish system removes parental choice. The system is paid for through high taxation which makes it impossible to live on a signal salary. True, the Swedish system means that all parents have access to affordable child care but:
– that child care is of dubious quality (poor adult/child ratios), high levels of sickness amongst daycare staff
– there are serious supply/demand issues particularly in Stockholm meaning some parents get little choice over which nursery their child attends, they’re just allocated a place through a queuing system
– the welfare and what is best for the child is completely ignored. It’s all about getting parents back into paid work. It’s basically a state run babysitting service
If the British government wants to invest in child care then I urge them to
1. Put the welfare of the child first. Don’t ignore the importance of attachment in the early years. Children are the future of the country so ushering them all into group care is just storing up problems in the future.
2. Preserve parental choice. Let’s not take the responsibility or raising children away from parents. This is what had happened in Sweden and I think it’s a great shame. Fine to invest in improving the quality of group care but at the same time there are many mums who would love to do the parenting themselves. The government needs to ensure that this choice is not removed which had effectively happened in Sweden.
Recognising the family as an unit instead of just the individual
I totally agree with a transferable tax allowance! Why not recognise the family as a unit instead of just the individual. Could you not opt to have a family tax code? At the moment policies discriminate against single income families and that’s wrong. They discriminate against a family working together to support each other with different roles. My husband supports my child and I financially, but as a family we have chosen for me to do the work in the home which of course supports my husband in his work too. We operate as a family, not as individuals and I’d like to see the tax system recognise this.
Offering choice to allow for personal circumstances
I’d like to add that as people’s circumstances differ so much a one size fits all approach will never work. Our situation is that my husband has recently started his own business. He works long hours and can be away from home sometimes for weeks at a time. We do not live close to either of our families so have no support with child care. We both strongly believe in the importance of our son being cared for by me in the home rather than being in group care. We believe this to be best for him. However, I think it is also important to highlight that in our situation me taking on responsibility for the home and our child frees up my husband’s time to work and (hopefully) make a success of his new business.
If I worked full time and we shared all household responsibilities between us he simply couldn’t do his job. If he had to be home in time to share such tasks as nursery pick-ups or making dinner it would seriously hinder his ability to do his job. We’ve chosen to split the roles in a traditional way – my husband as the bread winner and myself as the home maker – because this works best for us as a family.
Despite what some politicians may think, not all women need a job to feel fulfilled. I have a masters degree from a good University and had a good job before I had my son but I feel more fulfilled now as a full time mother than I ever felt at work. I’d like politicians to start recognising that not all women need a career to feel fulfilled. Some of us love bringing up our children and supporting our husbands. Policy should focus on offering choice to allow for personal circumstances and supporting families.
MAHM would like to thank the author of this piece for sharing her experiences with us. This is one story amongst many. Other people will have a different story to tell and the govt sponsored ‘norm’ might suit their circumstances better. Some parents may be able to depend on the help and support of grandparents or another family member. The important thing is to recognise that not all families are the same and families carry care costs whether they do it themselves or employ others. As such they should be treated equally in taxation and child allowances.