Advent Calendar 2017: Dec 18th - Family First in Sweden
Dec 18th – Family First in Sweden
Sweden is a very family centric culture. It’s one of the big reasons we were excited to live here. The government prioritizes families through its parental leave support, pensioner support, free education, and health coverage. And this comes from the Swedish culture, because these kinds of things wouldn’t exist if the culture didn’t support it. They went through some rough times before the turn of the last century, and the result was that they decided to make sure they all took care of the basics for everyone in order to be a successful people. In this Christmas season, I’d say it sounds a little bit like what that little Baby in a manger recommended when He grew up, you know, taking care of the young, the sick, the poor, the meek. But I digress.
You see this play out in daily life in many small ways. For one thing, shops close much earlier than in the states. People go home to their families, have dinner and go to bed. Lights are off in our courtyard by 9 or 10 (except ours… ) and there are primarily families in here. The entire town center (except the 2 bars) closes by 8, and ours is open later than most of the town centers on our T-line. I don’t know HOW people get shopping done after work when the grocery store is closed by 6pm, it baffles me, but it probably has something to do with the fact that rush hour starts at 3pm. Work places everywhere are apparently used to parents going home around 3pm to pick their kids up from school, make dinner and get ready for the next day. This isn’t a small rush, it’s like 5pm in Portland. It’s on the subway, on the highways, everywhere. By 5:30 the traffic has lulled. The subway traffic picks up again at 6:30 or so with a different crowd headed home. People just spend more time at home here. They eat out less, they play more games, they probably watch plenty of TV but seriously, after 10pm, the live TV is almost non-existent. They even baptize their babies at home. The priest comes to your house.
I also see extended families more involved in childcare than I am used to. This isn’t a dig on extended families or friend-families in the states, it’s just a more robust tradition here, and is likely a result of people having more financial/health/retirement security and so more ability to help each other out. Not a lot of extra, but enough, and with less worry. I see grandmothers pushing prams in the subway, on the sidewalks, and in cafes with kids all the time. At our preschool there were always a lot of grandparents helping at the 12:30 pickup, but outside of that community I don’t remember seeing it all that often. It’s definitely a privilege because it requires people being able to retire with enough and/or have flexible schedules. I recently heard how a woman who did not have family nearby, who spent her maternity leave like most of us, learning the hard ways how to take care of a newborn on our own, was super frustrated because when her husband took paternal leave, he went to his mom’s everyday for help, fika, and dinner. (I’d be frustrated too!) But families are there to support each other. And that’s nice. And I’m guessing that grandma will be super helpful in the future because she’s so used to having that babe in her world. And people CAN take time to do it because of the way things are set up. It isn’t a perfect system, but this is a pretty great result of a lot of policy makers trying to get it right.
And yes, the irony is that we are a LOT further away from most of our family and our friend-family. But in the summer we get to see a lot more of Cora’s dad and mom than when were in Portland, spend way more time with extended family, and with the time-off policies here, we’ll have more time off to travel to see our people. We will be back to visit because we’ll have time, and hopefully when our kids are grown and starting their own families, we’ll have the time and flexibility to be able to help them. And in the meantime, we’ll have more flexibility to be there for them as they grow up. And we’ll probably spend more time at home, even more than we did before if that’s possible! The kids are happy with that, Felix never wants to leave his Legos (unless to play in the snow) and Freja never wants to leave the neighborhood, though she does love a good swing at the park.