A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to Stockholm by Baby Bjorn. They invited myself and my family out for a few days to be part of their upcoming campaign, but also to investigate parenting the Swedish way. The Swedes, and much of Scandinavia, have long been held aloft as parental paradigms to be emulated and I was interested to get the skinny on the Scandi way of parenting.
Over dinner, there was lots of chat about how the UK government deals with parents and parenting versus how the Swedish government embrace it. There’s a distinct difference: the Swedes do what they can to enable and support parents thrive in all areas of their life. The UK government throws bones to parents in a reactive and short sighted way. The Swedes have a long-term vision. Here’s the kicker: the Swedish government introduced their paternity care back in the 1970s. Forty years later, it’s a given that every father will take paternity leave. That’s how far behind we are…almost half a century.
In Sweden, childcare is pretty much free for everyone and for those that do have to pay, it will never cost them more than £130 a month, with care for subsequent children costing incrementally less each time. The nurseries are beautiful – spacious, well-staffed, equipped with everything a child will need to support their development and sense of fun for the first 5-6 years of their life. One day a week, every kid spends the day in the Forest; the rest of the time, they’re nurtured in an environment that is embraced as a wonderful addition to their life, rather than a temporary safe space in which they’re dumped while their career-conscious parents duck out to earn a buck.
That’s the real difference – the social acceptance of a parent’s right to be able to work without judgement. In fact, there are very few children that aren’t in childcare from the age of one onwards. That’s not because their parents are heartless, selfish, ambitious monsters…it’s because their parents need to work to provide a happy, safe and healthy homes for their children. There’s no assumption or belief that kids are less happy because they’re at nursery full time. In fact, it seems to be quite the opposite.
On the flip side, there are no nurseries that accept children under the age of one because it’s simply not necessary. Maternity and paternity leave is so well provided that families don’t need to return to work any earlier. Parents received 80% of their pay through their maternity/paternity leave. When they do return to work, there’s no late nights, or taking work home. They work reasonable hours that allow them to pick up their children and get home with them in time to spend time, cook a meal and hang out as a family.
When they showed me around the nursery, I cried. I cried because it hit me in the gut that I would never be able to provide this for my children. I don’t have the resources to afford them full time childcare that allows them to spend a day week in the forest and even if I did, the nurseries in the UK are buckling under the pressure the government are putting them under to provide subsidised childcare that they are simply not given the budget for. I cried because I felt guilty for being a working mum, for being a tired and stressed out working mum because I have to cram five days of work into three days and for the other two I’m sneaking in emails, leaving the room to take calls and staying up until 1am to get shit done.
So how do they fund it? Well, taxes of course. As they say, there’s nothing certain in life but cinnamon buns and taxes and yes, they are heavily taxed. Many are taxed up to 60% which, I’m sure will make many of you wince. I don’t know about you, but I know many, many women who go to work and end up spending almost 100% of their wages on childcare. When you look at it like that, wouldn’t it be better to lose 60% to tax and know that your childcare is free and you’ve still got almost half your salary left?
Look, it’s not like me to cry. Sure, my business partner Gayle will cry at an insurance ad, but me? Nope. I’m not built that way but I cried and I really couldn’t stop. It’s a truly sorry state of affairs that there’s a country that’s making this work in a way that leads them to be labelled the happiest nation of people over and over again, and we’re not following suit. This isn’t all the government’s fault either. We resist any calls for higher taxes but, whatever you think of whatever government we have, they can’t provide free shit for us without budget. It’s got to be time for everyone, us and the government, to stop being so shortsighted about the situation. Whether it’s childcare, schools, the NHS…these institutions are fundamental to our lives and they need funding.
It’s that simple.