donderdag 20 november 2014

Lessons learned: why I am happy I don't live in Scandinavia

Oslo mother: "When my partner got an offer in The Netherlands, it was very easy for us to decide to leave, as we were in the middle of this commuting with no day care spot for [our daughter] in sight."

When I read that on Slate, it pulled me up short. Somehow, Norway (and Sweden) had lodged themselves in my mind as the ultimate states for young families. A year's paid leave from work, a guarantueed job once you get back and for the non-child bearing a shot at a new career, industry or job because you get to fill in a whole year for a maternity leave, not a measly four months.

In Sweden in particular men step up too. The way the maternity/paternity leave is rigged, it ensures that fathers take up a lot of their parental leave too (two months out of the twelve are reserved for men only, so if the father doesn't take two months leave, the child has to go into daycare at ten months. And there are generally no spots before the child is one year old.)

It all sounds like a dream come true.

And then I read that quote. And it set off a cascade of thoughts.

As it turns out, in Norway your child may only enter daycare in September, regardless of the birth month. And the child has to be one year old. If you miss the sign up deadline of March, it means you have no slot for the next year. So that means mid-year moves or new careers in different cities are out as long as you have pre-school children. Seeing as how Blondie was born in October, that would have meant not one but almost TWO years at home with the baby. And since her brother was born a few months after she turned two, I would have been back in and out of work in a matter of months.

Somehow, I don't think that several years of forced home leave would have contributed to my happiness. Especially when I think back on my ecstatic happiness when I first started back at work last year. Big Boy was six months old at the time - not an option in Norway, and frowned upon in Sweden.

By now, I have really done it all, but I've never had it all. I have stayed at home, I have worked full-time, I am working part-time now. It's a struggle, each and every option, but at least I have had the opportunity to try all of them, and to find out which suit me and my family best.

This is where the cascade of thoughts stopped: the Scandinavian idyll does not allow for different strokes. The Scandinavian idyll, as being sold to us today, advocates one way. The Right Way.

The right way is full-time work for two parents with the children in highly qualified day care centres (because the grandparents work full-time too). No village of uneducated neighbours, friends and family taking turns and taking care of the wee ones, but an all-knowing, high quality state making sure all is set up to best promote the values that have been democratically decided to be of the highest importance: equality and prosperity.

Reading over that last sentence, I think I know another state which closely resembles that fatherly (for want of a gender neutral term) description. But I digress.

I am still learning how to navigate parenthood and economic viability. But I feel blessed that I have had these different options and different life styles to try on to see how they fit. I am grateful that other people have let me look into their lives and (patiently) answered questions on how and what they did. And I have seen that almost everybody, in Singapore, Netherlands or Scandinavia, like me, is still trying to figure things out.

I could fill a blog post with how horrible it is to part-time work from home with children around. (Other people do that so much better.) I could just as easily write about the pain of missing out on my children's lives because I am at work, or the agonizing boredom of having a two year old as your only company for days on end. I have lived all those lives, and hated each one at times.

I don't have an answer (in general, it is safe to assume I have no answers, unless you're asking about early medieval saints, and even in that case, I would advise you to double check).

But at least, I got to try it out for myself. I think in the Scandinavian model I would not have had that opportunity.

My whiteboard at work

NaBloPoMo November 2014

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